The Boy in the Earth

Fuminori Nakamura is one of the most intriguing contemporary novelists out of Japan, but I’m glad his works are short. It would be much too difficult to wrap your head around the darkness his characters inhabit if his works were 500 pages long instead of his more usual 200 pages or less. His austere plot lines are inhabited by intensely well-drawn characters, but the characters themselves are “hollow.” Not in the sense that they aren’t fully realized, but in the sense that almost every character is damaged, has an aspect of loss to them, a hole that cannot always be filled.

THE BOY IN THE EARTH opens with our protagonist provoking a motorcycle gang, willing them to beat him into a pulp, which they gleefully do.

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The Kingdom

thekingdomIf you haven’t started your first-edition collection (hardback and paperback) of the work of Fuminori Nakamura, perhaps you should start with his latest, THE KINGDOM, as translated by Kalau Almony. Nakamura’s kind of an acquired taste. He writes with intensity and passion, but his work revels in the dark, dour and desperate. He will make you uncomfortable but also surprise you with some psychological thoughts and insights that will make you put the book down and think about actions and consequences.

In THE KINGDOM, we meet young Yurika who works for a powerful man named Yata. She poses as a prostitute to get close to other men, drugs them, then takes compromising photos of them that Yata then uses to manipulate the men.

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The Gun

thegunFuminori Nakamura is one of the more interesting novelists out of Japan these days. He struck gold with his first novel, THE THIEF, and has been up and down since, occasionally falling prey to over-experimentation or strange plotting, occasionally hitting high notes with character motivation and overall themes. His fourth novel, THE GUN, is a short and feverish descent into madness and obsession.

Our troubled protagonist, Nishikawa, finds a dead man under a bridge, a revolver near the body. It may have been suicide but there is no note, it might have been a gang-style execution. Nishikawa cannot think, and he cannot think why, but for some reason, he covets the gun and takes it into his possession.

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Evil and the Mask

evilmaskIt’s the ridiculous premise of Fuminori Nakamura’s EVIL AND THE MASK that makes this new work so much less successful than his brilliant debut, THE THIEF.

At the age of 11, Fumihiro Kuki’s father tells the boy that he has been deliberately sired to be a cancer on the face of the earth. It is part of the Kuki tradition that when the patriarch gets to a certain age, he fathers a child who will be taught how to bring misery to as many people as possible for the rest of his life. Eh.

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The Thief

Written from the first-person perspective, Fuminori Nakamura’s THE THIEF is one of those books you can read on a weekend afternoon, but it stays with you for weeks afterward. It’s a delightfully brief look at the life of one Japanese professional pickpocket, mixed with some cod philosophy about fate and death and incorporating some mysterious imagery that keeps pulling you back to Nakamura’s words and what they mean to both him and to the reader.

Our pickpocket enjoys lifting wallets from the rich. He only takes the cash — never the credit cards — and places the wallet in a mailbox so it will eventually be returned to the victim. He has a mentor and a partner, and this man eventually introduces him to one of the local big shots, a Mr. Kizaki.

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The Thief

First published in Japan in 2009, Fuminori Nakamura’s THE THIEF has been translated and released three years later by Soho Crime in the States. Our narrator has no name and is only referred to as “the thief.” He is a pickpocket by trade, and one who thinks very highly of his skills.

We watch as he goes about his day, taking any wallets he can, yet not even remembering some he finds on himself as the day progresses. He only keeps the cash and sends the wallets back to their owners; he has no interest in their identification or keeping credit cards that can be traced back to him.

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