Salvation of a Saint

Many of you know how much I enjoyed and admired Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X which I read last year. In the interim, a drama series based on his short stories, Higashino Keigo Mysteries, aired in Japan and I watched with glee as he deconstructed the various mystery tropes that make up the successful crime writer’s arsenal.

And so I couldn’t wait to read Salvation of a Saint which once again featured the maverick and eccentric Detective Galileo aka phyics Professor Manabu Yukawa of the fictional Teito University in Tokyo who is invaluable in assisting the police investigations of his college friend, Detective Kusanagi. I was also delighted to see the appearance of Kusanagi’s deputy, Detective Kaoru Utsumi, who is one of the main characters in the tv series Galileo which aired in Japan in 2007 and which was my first introduction to Higashino’s mysteries.

Unlike in The Devotion of Suspect X, Professor Yukawa only makes an appearance from Chapter 9. The action is focused more on the police investigation into the murder of Yoshitaka Mashiba, a wealthy businessman with a beautiful wife, Ayane, who is a successful patchwork artist and teacher and a much younger lover, Hiromi Wakayama, who also happens to be his wife’s apprentice. But on that fateful weekend, Ayane was in Sapporo visiting her aging parents and Mashiba was supposedly alone. Told in flashbacks, the back story of the characters are slowly revealed in tandem with the progression of the investigation. When Utsumi suspects that her superior, Kusanagi, is being emotionally swayed by the captivatingly tragic Ayane, she calls upon Yukawa for his assistance. For the detectives are baffled at the inexplicable manner of Mashiba’s death and are unable to find any clues.

Unlike a conventional crime thriller, we are given a small number of suspects right from the beginning who are then slowly narrowed down as the police uncover clues. Higashino seems more interested in fleshing out the motives of each character through their interaction with the victim and unraveling the final trick with which the murder, if it can be proved, was carried out. Like with The Devotion of Suspect X, the mechanism of this trick is deceptively clever, if not slightly simpler as is the story itself which is a straightforward crime passionel.

This is a quiet book where the violence has already happened and the characters are dealing with the aftermath, all the while fending off prying questions by the police. There are no conflicts that are about to erupt. Everything is kept in check by the suspects. But this, contrarily ratchets up the tension because you aren’t exactly sure how the characters are going respond. Will they continue to put up a brave face or will they crack?

The mystery and the characters were satisfying but I am still unsure about the narrative structure and whether the flashbacks provided a cohesive plot. In some ways, I would have preferred if Higashino had embedded the characters’ pasts into the general narrative instead of giving us chunks in between which would have provided a more seamless reading experience.

The other thing of which I would have liked a little more explanation was the rift in Yukawa and Kusanagi’s relationship which I am suspecting happened in the previous book but which I seem to have forgotten.

Although I preferred The Devotion of Suspect X because of its sheer, shocking ingenuity, Salvation of a Saint is a solid crime novel providing you with a glimpse of affluent Tokyo and flawless houses that hide seething emotions just below the surface. Keigo Higashino’s work is hugely popular in Japan with a second series of Galileo and a film set to be released this year so I’m excited to see his novels featuring Prof. Yukawa appearing in English. I can’t wait to read more!

I would like to thank the lovely people at Little Brown who kindly sent me copy of Salvation of a Saint to review.

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

29 January, 2013

Swedish Folk Tales

Ooh, two posts in a day. Aren’t you the lucky ones?

Check out what I’ve been slurping for my complexion in Umami Mart: Slightly Peckish and don’t judge me.

In bookish news, I’m currently ensconced in Eowyn Ivey’s beautiful The Snow Child for my book group. I’m normally put off by a lot of hype but since reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, I feel chastised and am prepared to believe.

And I’ll leave you with some interesting links from Twitter:

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations from Brain Pickings. We used to own a book of Swedish Folk Tales illustrated by John Bauer. So beautiful and enchanting.

Best Fictional Libraries in Pop Culture from Flavorwire

And have you seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Thank you Simon T, Ana and Iris! It’s Pride and Prejudice‘s 200th birthday this week. My favourite adaptations are still the black and white film starring Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson which I first saw when I was 14 and, of course, Colin Firth’s Darcy. Still swooning.

Silence by Shusaku Endo

23 January, 2013

Silence


Lord, why are you silent?
Why are you always silent…..?

Shusaku Endo’s Silence is probably his most famous novel. Like The Samurai and The Volcano, it is a study of Christianity in early modern Japan and the terrible path it carved through the lives of its believers and those who tried to stamp it out.

It is almost 60 years after Francis Xavier’s successful mission to Southern Japan. But the Tokugawa Shogunate, fearing the growing popularity of Christianity amongst the country’s poor and the possible fomentation of anti-government sentiment, has closed Japan’s doors against outsiders, leading the country into self-imposed isolation and declaring a ban on Christianity. It is in this harsh period of forced apostasy and danger that the Jesuit priest Sebastian Rodrigues and his companions set out from Portugal to discover the fate of their teacher, Christovão Ferreira, who has disappeared in Japan after rumours of his apostasy sent shock waves across the Christian world. Via Macao, they board a ship to a village near Nagasaki and there, their ideas and views on their vocation and the land they had dreamt of comes under increasing attack as they realise that the path they have chosen is harsher than anything they ever expected.

My reading of Silence as a non-Christian will probably differ from those who do believe, and yet, I feel that Endo successfully manages to get to the root of what he is trying to portray and shows the reader the real, honest and true anguish of someone who is trying to understand what it means to have faith and to live their life in a true and meaningful way.

I don’t think I have ever come across another novelist who has managed to do this in such a searing portrayal of a man struggling against fear and doubt and still trying to do justice to his vocation. Rodrigues is constantly treading water, at the edge of desperation, as he sees his flock captured, forced to step on fumie and apostatise, tortured and killed. He is perpetually caught between wanting to end the suffering of the Japanese Christians and staying true to his vocation, that he must continue his mission to spread and uphold his faith in Japan. It is a struggle from the beginning as most Christian converts are from the lower orders of the social hierarchy; many are peasants who are struggling with poverty and whose lives are hellish.

for a long, long time these farmers have worked like horses and cattle; and like horses and cattle they have died. The reason our religion has penetrated this territory like water flowing into dry earth is that it has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew. For the first time they have met men who treated them like human beings.

You are there with Rodrigues as he jumps from one painful situation to the next, always shadowed by his Judas, the wretched, weak apostate Kichijiro, until he is finally captured himself. And there he comes face to face with the man he has come to Japan to find, his teacher Ferreira. And this is where his real struggle begins.

SPOILER ALERT (click and highlight to see text)

I was expecting Rodrigues to die at the end of the novel. But what Endo has done is something I hadn’t expected. Something much worse. And also something which really drives home and makes you think about what it must mean to have true faith. Does the fact that you have stepped on a fumie mean that you are an unbeliever? Can you really choose between stopping someone’s torture and keeping your own hands clean? And most importantly, Rodrigues finally believes that God had spoken to him and shown him the way, that by apostatising, he has become a true Christian and is saving his brethren from death. I may have gotten this all wrong but I found the ending to be truly painful but the fact that Rodrigues did not take his own life must mean that although he has no choice but to comply with his captors, he has found some kind of peace within himself and found meaning in his Christianity. But I’m not really sure.

END OF SPOILER

Endo’s portrayal of Rodrigues is that of a real blood, sweat and tears man. A man who is struggling with what he believes and what he thinks is the right thing to do. It’s a vital, anguished portrayal but one which really touched me. There are hardly any clean, beautiful characters in this novel. It’s raw and gritty and wretched. And yet it stays with you. The Samurai showed how Christianity lifted some of the burden from the lives of the poor peasants in feudal Japan but Silence shows how much the Japanese and their Portuguese priests had to give up in order to protect their faith.

There is a word in Japanese, shugyo (修行), which loosely translates as an apprenticeship or training with roots in Buddhism. It’s often used to denote a period of training that one must undergo in order to become stronger, to achieve success or some sort of enlightenment. Rodrigues’ ordeal is akin to this. He doesn’t shy away from it, knowing that he must get through it in order for there to be some meaning in his life, for there to be a link with his faith.

I finished reading Silence almost two weeks ago but Rodrigues’ struggle  still lingers in my mind as I try to understand whether he managed to come to terms with his choices. I am in awe of what Endo has accomplished here (together with William Johnston’s superb translation) and will definitely be seeking more of his novels to read as I hope some of you will too.

Do check out Bellezza and Tony‘s posts and Tanabata‘s discussion of Silence and Teresa has posted on a new translation of Kiku’s Prayer.

*Do also check out Teresa’s post on re-reading Silence.

I read this as part of Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge 6, Tony‘s January in Japan and Ana and IrisLong Awaited Reads Month.

JLC6 #1 January in Japan LAR Button Final

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

15 January, 2013

Hello. How are you?

It’s extremely chilly in London although we haven’t seen any more snow since the brief flurry yesterday. But here’s something to cheer you up at Umami Mart: Slightly Peckish where I talk about Shonan Cheese Pie from Japan. So check me out!

In bookish news, I’m currently reading Shusaku Endo’s famous novel about Christian apostasy and martyrdom in 17th century Japan, Silence. It’s a deep and moving portrayal of faith and I love Endo’s writing. I’m keeping to my promise of reading only from my own shelves at the moment, although I have to admit I bought some books while strolling through a couple of charity shops in the weekend. Oops. But I’ll keep them for later in the year, of course.

The British Library is hosting a free exhibition on crime including a series of events on crime writing which I’m really excited about. I’ll have to make my way there for a peek and possibly a coffee. Just sitting in that lovely building is inspiring.

Badaude has a lovely piece in berfrois.

And Bellezza has a wonderful post about Haruki Murakami and translation.

Maintaining the fragile contact between my finger and the wallet, I sandwiched it in the folded newspaper. Then I transferred the paper to my right hand and put it in the inside pocket of my own coat. Little by little I breathed out, conscious of my temperature rising even more. I checked my surroundings, only my eyes moving. My fingers still held the tension of touching a forbidden object, the numbness of entering someone’s personal space. A trickle of sweat ran down my back.

Winner of the Kenzaburo Oe Prize in 2010, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief is a sublime reflection on the nature of crime rather than a thrilling mystery. Nevertheless, it kept me turning the pages as I sought the conclusion to the protagonist’s dilemma.

The Thief (Suri or Pickpocket in Japanese) is the tale of a Nishimura, a loner whose sole purpose of existance is the thrill of stealing from another person without them noticing. Nishimura has perfected pickpocketing to an artform and this talent, together with his friendship with Ishikawa ulitmately leads him into a vortex of crime from which he cannot escape.

Nishimura himself isn’t a violent man. And yet his association with Ishikawa, a genius thief, brings him into contact with a sinister backroom figure who enjoys manipulating events behind the scenes and who orchestrated their last job which resulted in them going on the run. With no family ties or close friendships, Nishimura is able to escape but unable to stay away from Tokyo for long. Upon his return he is sought after by his ex-colleagues and also strikes up a tenuous friendship with a lonely and neglected boy which ultimately leads him to his present dilemma. Do one more job, or else.

There’s a sense of stillness in Nakamura’s novel. Like something happening in slow motion where sound ceases and you can only watch as a collision occurs, slowly, inevitably. The protagonist, Nishimura, is a social outcast. Someone who, from a young age, felt he was outside normal, noisy society. Although he is solitary, he isn’t necessarily lonely. He doesn’t have a grudge against society or want revenge. He’s happy doing what he’s good at doing, stealing. And he could have gone on this way if he hadn’t interacted with anyone else. First, his friend Ishikawa. Then the little boy. In a sense, it’s chilling to see that you can never escape from your interactions with people. As long as someone remembers you, they’ll find you. Nothing too exciting happens in this novel, but you will close the book feeling like you’ve tapped into Nishimura’s existential rabbit hole. It’s as though he is Alice, falling, falling, falling and unable to stop. It’s sparsely written, just like its narrator, and it’s rather beautiful.

One of the things I felt when reading The Thief was a sense of paranoia everytime I stepped outside because you learn a whole lot about pickpocketing. Basically, if you’ve been targeted by a pro, you have NO chance!

I would like to thank Corsair for kindly sending me this book to review.

I read this as part of Japanese Literature Challenge 6 and R.I.P. VII.

rolls by again. However, this week I’m sharing a book review from chasing bawa. Cross-blogging, hurray! So do check me out at Umamimart: Slightly Peckish just in case you missed my review here. It features Japan and food! Win-win, right?

In bookish news, I’ve got some exciting reading coming up this summer. I always get so excited about summer not just because we finally get to enjoy some sunshine but because of the endless possibilities. It must be a remnant of the school holidays, 3-4 months of nothing which I filled with reading, travelling, playing and creating things.

I’m currently having a love affair with Russian literature and am reading A Gentle Axe by R.N. Morris, a mystery sequel to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment featuring detective Porfiry Petrovich. I tried this novel several years ago just after I finished Crime and Punishment but didn’t get very far. Probably because I must have been Dostoevskied out even though I loved the original book. But this time round I’m enjoying it. See, it pays to give second chances, right? And it’s in preparation for Tolstoy’s War And Peace which I’m really looking forward to reading especially after finishing Elif Batuman’s brilliant The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.

When we were discussing this over brunch on Sunday, especially regarding the complexity and sometimes impossibility of reading Russian literature (the names do me in, especially in The The Brothers Karamazov ), one of my friends asked whether I had read Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov. Apparently after 50 pages, the main character still hasn’t got out of bed.

So, tell me, what is your favourite Russian/Soviet novel? And have you read Oblomov?

One of my favourite reading challenges has commenced again. Although I am drawn to Japanese literature anyway, Dolce Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge always makes me focus on why I read Japanese literature and the connections it has with my other choices over the year. I’m also nosy about what others are reading which often leads to some exciting new discoveries.

So, this year, I am planning to read the following:

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – Er, I’ve had this since it was published and have only dipped into the first chapter. What is wrong with me?

Silence by Shusaku Endo – I’ve read so much about this book and have finally got a copy of my own (well, I got my friend to buy it for me for my birthday last year, heh.) Endo is one of my favourite Japanese writers (both The Samurai and The Volcano are beautifully written) and I can’t wait to read this.

I also have a growing stack of fiction in Japanese. Apparently I have no problems buying and hoarding books in other languages even though I don’t read them. I may want to try one of them although most of them haven’t been translated into English. However, it’s good to know and keep an eye out for interesting authors that may get translated one day, right? I try to keep abreast with the literary world in Japan but like in the UK, there are SO many books being published every year. So what I normally do is look at the prize lists such as the Naoki and Akutagawa Awards and check out recommendations in the Japanese magazines I do read.

And then maybe I might also choose something from my perennial list of Mishima, Kawabata and Banana. What do you think? Should I branch out more? And more importantly, what are YOU going to read?