Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Notes: Nakamura — Stark Staccato versus Fluid and Poetic

Most writers have to get in the minds of people unlike themselves.  Certainly males write about females. Whites write about Blacks. Old people write about the young. Honest people write about dishonest people. And lots of vice versas. To steal the phrasing of the Geico ads:  We’re writers. It’s what we do.
However, it seems a pretty brave undertaking for a male writer to jump into the soul of a female so intimately — in the first person, no less — as Fuminori Nakamura has in his about-to be-released English translation of The Kingdom.  Then again Nakamura was born in 1977. Fortunately, for younger artists the lines of differentiation, with regard to gender and color are fading, opening new ways of seeing and thinking. But that doesn’t mean the vision can’t be dark.

Here, in The Kingdom, the author takes us back to his underworld of Tokyo.  Unlike TheThief and The Gun, the narrator here, Yurika, a fake prostitute who steals money or information, is unabashedly emotive, oddly about her lack of emotion. We are engaged in feeling rather than cold observation. The usual, simple, direct sentences are more expansive, nuanced in The Kingdom. The narrative reads like dreams.  Yet, the theme of control, whether that means a character has a difficult time holding onto it or is trying to escape it, remains central.
Easily tied to universal symbolism, Nakamura brings in the sun and the moon not just as metaphors, but also as sources of control beyond anyone’s ability to resist perhaps, and adds these forces to the earthbound monster he creates. In this novel in particular, the author appears to be adding a bit of smoky, fluid poetry to his usually stark, high contrast, staccato reality.

I’m a fan, though I’d be dishonest if I didn't admit to a little disappointment — being such an admirer of the minimalist style of his previous novels. This doesn’t diminish the thrill factor.  However thick his narrative can be, we must turn the pages. Yurika learns her destiny may have been designed very early in her life by the same man who holds that same life in his hands years later. 

It might appear the award-winning Japanese author is writing a book a week, judging from the frequency of recent releases. But what is likely happening is that his popularity here is so great publisher SOHO Crime appears to be stepping up the speed of translations available here. If you read Japanese, you could easily be well ahead of the rest of us.

No comments: