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by Fuminori Nakamura and Allison Markin Powell, trans
Soho Crime, April 2017
187 pages
ISBN: 1616955945

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Originally published in 2005 and winner of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, THE BOY IN THE EARTH does not really fit in the crime novel genre. It is the stream of consciousness of a nihilistic cab driver in Tokyo, who has a very intense desire to be "in the earth."

It is a thriller in the same elevated sense of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment or Camus' The Stranger. It asks those big existentialist questions. Does life have meaning, and if not, why stay here? Do we have free will? Are we the result of our genetic make-up or the result of our upbringing?

Specifically the central character had a horrible childhood, abused, abandoned, forgotten. He is so paralyzed that he can't drag himself off to work. He challenges a gang and of course they beat him up. Lying face down in the earth, he begins to accept his state, in the earth.

And then there is Sayuko, his live-in girlfriend. She has ended up at his place because she had no place to go after her previous boyfriend pushed her down a flight of stairs. She was pregnant and the child was stillborn. Now she cannot feel anything and the central character describes some awful sex scenes with her in which neither of them have any pleasure, or pain, for that matter.

Ready to open a vein, dear reader?

There is more to come. But robbery, beatings, and a car crash land him in the hospital. Sayuko steps up and helps him through his recovery. He meets an old man who had helped him as a child. He tells the man that he has forgotten about his parents and decides to opt for the present and do something for and with Sayuko.

In his afterword, Nakamura speaks candidly “I have truly been saved by literature. It provides me with the sustenance…to go on living.” Nakamura is such a lovely vulnerable young man, so open about his struggles. He reminds readers of their own young selves, finding meaning for themselves through reading books like THE BOY IN THE EARTH.

§ Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, April 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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