The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (a most excellent beginning to the Japanese Literature Challenge 13)

I can’t help feeling there’s something inexplicable about this crime. I don’t know how to express it precisely, but there’s something incoherent or indefinable about it, something the human mind isn’t equipped to engage with. (p. 63)

How I love an intriguing mystery, a well written, well developed story that has not been manipulated for “twists and turns” but naturally unfolds it’s layers as a flower unfurls its petals. You can trust a Japanese author to do just that, and Riku Onda does it magnificently in her novel, The Aosawa Murders, which won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, beginning with a police interview conducted with Hisako Aoswara which only gives the barest glimpse into her account. Gradually we become aware of a certain crepe myrtle tree, a blue room, and a strange letter left under a vase for a single flower at the scene of the crime. The fact that Hisako is blind only serves to obfuscate her side of the story.

What becomes clear Is that seventeen people have died by drinking poisoned soft drinks or sake at a birthday party for Dr. Aosawa and his family. The drinks were brought and left by a messenger wearing a black hat and a yellow raincoat. Only one person in the family has survived: the beautiful young daughter who is blind, Hisako.

One by one we read the perspectives of the people who can give their account of what has happened. First, is a conversation with Makiko Saiga, the author of the book Forgotten Festival, which gives her side of the story as she was a neighbor Hisako’s age when the murder occurred. Then, we have the point of view of her assistant who points out a few discrepancies in Makiko’s book.There is an excerpt from Forgotten Festival, an interview with the housekeeper’s daughter, and the detective’s thoughts himself. From these testimonies, and several others, the truth is gradually revealed.

But, what is truth? How can any of us know what another’s experience has been? Consider this quote from the author’s assistant:

I hope you understand that truth is nothing more than one view of a subject seen from a particular perspective. (p. 59)

It was fascinating to read each account, to gain an understanding of what really happened as each piece was laid in place. It was a puzzle which was solved by seemingly unrelated pieces which fit together perfectly once they were laid down. I was surprised when all was known, but then again, I have never been a child in the blue room with a white crepe myrtle flower in full bloom.

About the author: Ricky Onda, born in. 1964, is the professional name of Nanao Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has published prolifically since. She has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Yamamoto Shugoro Prize and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. The Aosawa Murders won the prestigious Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel. It is Riku Onda’s first crime novel and her first work translated into English.

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda will be published in the U.S. by Bitter Lemon Press on February 15, 2020. But, I will send my copy to a participant of the Japanese Literature Challenge, U.S. only please. Simply leave a comment below, and I will draw a winner a week from today.

The winner of The Aosawa Murders is Nadia of A Bookish Way of Life. Thank you to all who commented here.

26 thoughts on “The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (a most excellent beginning to the Japanese Literature Challenge 13)

  1. Awww. It seems a wonderful title! Great kick off for you. (I’m still working on the amazing The Unconsoled. No rush. But after, Roshomon and When the Emperor Was Divine, being short books, I should finish them before March. If not, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is how much I’m loving this challenge.

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    • I wonder how you are feeling about The Unconsoled?! I kept expecting a solution, and then I realized I was in for the experience which worked just fine for me. There was so much to think about! I have read Roshomon and When The Emporer Was Divine, both wonderful. It is a privilege to share Japanese literature with you, my friend. And you are so right: there is no rush. That would be the worst.

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      • I already know there won’t be a resolution. I’m fine with that. I’m loving it. I’m attached to the characters, and it’s like all his other books and themes converge here. It’s a book for his fans, I am glad I am reading it after having read all his other books, several of them twice.

        Did you like The Artist of a Floating World?

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        • I am beginning The Artist of a Floating World next. I read The Aosawa Murders specifically for review, although I’m so glad I did, and a another short story sent by Malpopo which will go up on the blog tomorrow. Now I can focus on The Artist of a Floating World which I have been anticipating since it arrived! (Also, I have a copy of The Makioka Sisters waiting here for March.)

          I don’t know how you can read Japanese and The Iliad at the same time! You are a smart woman! Xo

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. I guess I already have a book listed for this challenge in 2021!!
    I just added a book in my 2020 list, as I realized Sanshiro (by Natsume Soseki), that I’ll be finishing tonight, is actually the first volume of a trilogy. I was going to read The Gate, without knowing that, but first I’ll need to read book 2, And Then.

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    • I’ve wanted to read The Gate, too, but I didn’t realize it was third in a trilogy! Guess it’s good I run this blog so I can find out such things.😳☺️ Thanks for telling me. I looked for Sanshirō in our library, but of course…no such luck.

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  3. Oh, this sounds like a really great book! And so great that you’re offering to send out your copy to a reader in the US (I’m not, so don’t put me into the hat). I always believe that great books are meant to be shared!

    I’ve started on Kafka on the Shore. I’ve forgotten how much I love Murakami.

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    • I’m sorry it’s cost prohibitive to send it overseas, Michelle. I’ve spent more than the book cost on shipping before! I hope you can find a copy of The Aosawa Murders where you are.

      And, as you may know, Kafka on the Shore is my favorite Murakami. I would consider rereading it this time around for the third time!

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    • It is nothing if not intriguing! It would be such a good book for a book group because the discussion could go on for ages. There is much to talk about, from the perspectives in the novel, to the perspectives we bring from our personal lives as readers. So glad you “love it”! xo

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    • It’s frustrating when writing about such a book that I can’t disclose too much for ruining it, so I am always glad when my post reflects the book accurately enough for people to think it’s fascinating. Which it is!

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  4. This sounds pretty chilling! I like these kinds of books that have a “slow reveal” of the truth.

    I have a bit further to go in The History of East Asia, but will be starting my Japanese Literature novels shortly after I finish it. 🙂

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    • I think ‘chilling” is a perfect adjective for this novel. As someone commented on this post, even the cover with the girl’s picture is somehow chilling. So much seems sweet but ominous at the same time.

      No rush to get into your Japanese literature novels; please, take your time to enjoy what you’re reading at the moment. There’s not much worse than rushing through to get to the next book.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes multiple narrators confuse me, or one gets the trick “unreliable narrator” novel. This is not such a story. No one is deliberately misleading the reader, we are simply uncovering more of the truth which each character’s interview/revelation. It is really great.

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  5. I saw something about this book last year and marked it as one I might want to try. That cover is a bit weird and creepy to me. Ha! Anyway, good to know your thoughts on it.

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    • We love a good mystery, Kay, and this is surely one. I so wish I could talk about it with you, as I’m sure you’d have good insights whereas I had to ponder things for hours before deciding my assumptions were probably correct. ☺️

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    • Yoko Ogawa does write fascinating novels. While I have not read The Memory Police yet, I plan to. My favorite book of hers by far is The Housekeeper and the Professor, which I found to be a gentle, quirky story which quite touched my heart. Then I read Hotel Iris which reminded me of Lolita, and the last book of hers I read (Revenge) had disturbing, but fascinating ideas. I could point you to some excellent crime, “thriller”, magical realism, or classic books if you would wish me to do so. I’m not sure if this is a new foray for you, into Japanese literature, but it sure is a worthy one in my opinion.😌

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