“I decided I would keep on stealing until I could no longer see the tower. Sinking lower and lower, deeper and deeper into the shadows. The more I stole, I believed, the further I would move away from the tower. Before long the tension of stealing became more and more attractive. The strain as my fingers touched other people’s things and the reassuring warmth that followed. It was the act of denying all values, trampling all ties. Stealing stuff I needed, stealing stuff I didn’t need, throwing away what I didn’t need after I stole it. The thrill that vanquishes the strange feeling that ran down to the tips of my fingers when my hands reached into that forbidden zone. I don’t know whether it was because I crossed a certain line or simply because I was growing older, but without my realizing it the tower had vanished.” (p. 181)
I’m not sure what the tower stands for. I suspect it’s some sort of moral compass for the thief who steals without remorse. We know little about his past, except that he has stolen since he was a child. That he once loved a married woman named Saeko. And so we walk with him in the streets of Tokyo through this portion of his life. We feel the thrill of stealing, the moment when the wallet which once was lying in some stranger’s pocket is now caught between our thumb and forefinger. We know enough to cause a disturbance, because if two jolts are felt the victim pays attention to the biggest one. He won’t even notice the smallest jolt, the moment of theft, until it’s too late.
But I don’t think the thief is entirely heartless. Almost, but not entirely. He watches a boy and his mother shoplift through the supermarket, and advises them that they’ve been spotted by the store’s detective. The boy instantly attaches himself to the thief, and the thief makes the closest attachment we’re allowed to witness back to the boy. An attachment that at least allows him to arrange for the boy’s placement in a home for children. He knows enough that he is unable to care for the boy himself.
So many issues are raised in this novel. It is wonderfully brief, and spare, much like something Hemingway would write. But, it is packed with dilemmas. Does our past catch up with us, or do we never truly escape from it? Do we control our own lives, or are we controlled by others? Is there redemption of any sort to be found in our concern for others? What happens when we can’t see the tower any longer?
This is a powerful, powerful novel. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time, and probably offer it as a give-away in the months to come. Thanks to SoHo Press for sending The Thief my way.
“I was deeply impressed with The Thief. It is fresh. It is sure to enjoy a great deal of attention.” ~Nobel Prize Winner Kenzaburo Oe
“(A) compelling look at a Tokyo pickpocket’s life…Nakamura’s memorable antihero (is) at once as believably efficient as Donald Westlake’s Parker and as disaffected as a Camus protagonist.” ~Publisher’s Weekly
“Fascinating.” ~Natsuo Kirino (bestselling author of Out)