Mysterious Book Report No. 93

by John Dwaine McKenna

Existentialism is a word that was often tossed around in discussions on college campuses back in the 60s when we were all busily self-absorbed discovering ourselves.  The word existentialism means “a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of will,” according to my Oxford English Dictionary.  As Popeye the sailor man so simply and eloquently put it; “I yam what I yam.”  And I yam what I yam because I made it so.  This week’s MBR No. 93 is an existentialist work of crime fiction that comes from Japan.  It won the Oe Japanese Prize for fiction, the equivalent of winning the Pulitzer Prize here in America, and it’s the best existentialist novel I’ve read since Albert Camus  and The Stranger way back when.  And hey     . . . don’t let the five and six syllable words keep you from reading this excellent, fast-paced novel about the Japanese criminal class.  You’ll miss a really good read, as well as an opportunity to peek into contemporary Tokyo through the eyes of a petty criminal who, through what is perhaps his only redeeming quality.  That of loyalty, and gets sucked into something way bigger and more dangerous than he realizes.

The Thief, (SOHO crime, PB, $14.95, 211 pages, ISBN 978-1-61695-202-0) by Fuminori Nakamura, was first published in Japan in 2009 where it drew immediate attention and acclaim, soon becoming a best-seller and winning a number of awards, including the aforementioned,  Oe Prize.  It has just been translated into English by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates.  In it we’re introduced to an unnamed, first-person narrator know only as the thief, a pickpocket who lives from minute to minute, committing crimes of opportunity against prosperous looking passers-by.  After lifting the victim’s wallet and removing the cash, he self-analyzes his victims by rifling the contents of their wallets . . . which he then dumps into the nearest mailbox like any honest citizen, knowing it will be sent by the postal service to the police, who’ll return it to the owner.  The thief is a man with nothing.  He has no friends or family, no name, no job, no future.  When a criminal acquaintance named Ishikawa offers him an “easy and lucrative” job as part of a five man burglary team, he accepts.  The job goes smoothly, but the next day the thief learns that the victim, a prominent politician, was murdered after he was robbed, and the thief realizes he’s in over his head and under the control, of a master criminal with an army of killers at his beck and call.

The prose is sharp and economical, the action is fast and relentless, and the conclusion is chilling.  The novel transcends genre and recommends itself to all adult readers, teens and up.  As for myself . . . I hope we don’t have a very long wait before his next book is translated into English . . . I’m not going to miss a single one!  He’s that good.

Hey!  It’s spring already and we’re back on daylight savings time.  Why do we go through the bother of setting our clocks ahead or back . . . it doesn’t really save any time, does it.  There’s still just twenty-four hours in a day, right?  Why even keep track of time in the first place?  It goes on regardless . . .

The answer to these, and many other profound questions can be found in your public library.  (You didn’t think I’d forget did you?)  Our libraries are a national treasure.  They’re uncensored, free and open to any and all knowledge seekers.  Become a patron.  Read more and learn more.  Don’t surrender to ignorance.

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That’s it for this week, but we’ll be baaaack . . .

–JDM