The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura (Japanese Literature Challenge 9)

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I wanted to experience every aspect of the gun thoroughly, and to abandon the firing of it that now loomed before me would mean there would be nothing left to do but to relinquish the fun. That was an impossible option, one that I couldn’t even fathom. Losing the gun would turn me into an empty shell of myself, and the prospect of carrying around that lifeless husk for the remaining years of my life seemed like an endless torture. I had often heard it said that humans lived to achieve what they chose to do, and I believed that.

The Gun tells what it is like to find a gun and become obsessed with it. When Nishikawa is wandering around late at night, he comes across the body of a fallen man beside whom is a gun. The young man picks up the gun and, as suddenly as that, is entranced. Through the subsequent pages of the novel, the gun becomes more than an acquired object for him; it is as though it has taken the place of a loved one.

Nishikawa buys special white cloth onto which he can lay the gun to show off its beautiful lustre; he polishes it and carresses it almost as if he would a woman.

It is fascinating to see the passion with which the gun takes hold of his life. As he fondles it, and daydreams about it, even in the company of his friends and lovers, the inevitable step for him to take next is to use it.

The reversible jacket, the leather gloves, the small flashlight, the gun – these four items constantly reminded me of the fact that I was a criminal. Sometimes I liked the way this made me feel, sometimes I didn’t. Yet these shifts in mood, this ambivalent consciousness that could be swayed by whatever vague reasons did not matter much to me. This was a simple process that I needed to follow, and what was important was whether I would succeed.

It is almost as though the gun has control of him rather than the other way around. Can it be that a gun holds the shooter “hostage”? At what point does the gunman lose his conscience: when he first picks up the gun, or before?

For a person who considers herself quite a pacifist, I was mesmerized by this novel. It created a plot which pushed relentlessly forward, while at the same time depicting psychological dilemmas for the central character which have no simple resolution. Just the kind of thing that makes me love Japanese literature so much.

I’ve Been Missing Japanese Literature So Much of Late…Coming Soon: Japanese Literature Challenge 9

As June approaches, so my thoughts turn to Japanese literature. For that is when I typically begin the Japanese Literature Challenge which runs through January. I wondered how I would make it fresh this year, but my friend Parrish Lantern felt that it needs no added incentive; reading Japanese Literature is its own reward. For those of us who love it, that is surely so.

But, I’ve been reading Jacqui‘s, and MarinaSofia‘s, posts concerning their #TBR20 (stack of twenty books waiting to be read), and I realized I’d like to do the same with my own stack of Japanese literature. It has accumulated to double stacked shelves, since the first Japanese Literature Challenge begun in 2006, and now I plan to read these books for the ninth Japanese Literature Challenge this year:

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I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying For Awhile by Taichi Yamada (purchased because I loved Strangers so much);

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Evil and The Mask and Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura (because I loved The Thief so much);

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The Tattoo Murder Case and Honeymoon to NoWhere (because I’ve not read anything by Akimitsu Takagi before);

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Asleep and The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (because a dear friend bought me Asleep when she heard how much I enjoyed Kitchen, and I was sent a first edition of The Lake years ago);

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South of the Border, West of The Sun, After the Quake,and Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (because those are the only three books left that I haven’t read of all he’s written);

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Spring Snow and Runaway Horses by Yukio Mashima (because they are books 1 and 2 of his Sea of Fertility series);

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The Decay of the Angel and The Temple of Dawn by Yukio Mishima (because they are books 3 and 4 of the Sea of Fertility series);

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Nocturnes and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as:

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A Pale View of Hills and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (because the only book I’ve read by him is The Remains of The Day)

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Naomi and Seven Japanese Tales by Junichiro Tanizaki (because I’ve not yet read anything by him, and the Tanizaki Prize is one of the most sought-after writing awards in Japan).

~o0o~

Soon the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 will begin. The review site is here, where those who wish to participate can leave links to their reviews. As a reminder, the challenge runs from June, 2015 until January, 2016, and all you “have” to do is read at least one work of Japanese Literature.

The review site has a page called Suggested Reading in case you’re looking for further titles. However, if anyone wishes to read any of the books I have listed above, I would love to have a shared read together. Just let me know.

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I hope you are as eager to begin as I, and remember these famous words from Haruki Murakami: “Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

We will hold ourselves wide open to possibility.

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

“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)