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Book Review: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

April 2, 2012 2 comments

Red silhouette of man running against black background.Summary:
The narrator makes his living as a pickpocket in Tokyo.  When the man who taught him the art, not to mention his only true friend, finds himself on the wrong side of the Yakuza, he sees the likely impending end to his own life.  But can he run or are his heart strings tied to the city?

Review:
Nakamura is a best-selling writer in Japan, and this is his first novel to be translated to English.  I’m a fan of the crime/noir novels coming out of Japan, and this one certainly didn’t let me down.

The narrator is everything you want from a criminal lead–sympathetic, dangerous, talented, handsome but not exceedingly so, trapped, creative.  It is so seamlessly easy to jump into his head and move through his life.

The story is far more complex than pick-pocketing.  We get a peek at the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, but also at the narrator’s poor, rural upbringing.  We encounter everyone from the downtrodden son of a prostitute to the (apparently) leader of the Yakuza.  It’s glamorous, dirty, and unpredictable.

The ending may turn some readers off.  It is an ambiguous one, which I know some people don’t like.  I love that kind of ending though, because it leaves me to ponder how I think things turned out. How I hope they turned out.  And I didn’t feel at all cheated by it either.  It’s well-supported, but stops just short of telling us everything.

Something did hold me back from completely loving the book though.  I think it would have been better if we had met the narrator a bit earlier in his career to follow his downward trajectory more completely.  It all felt a bit too sudden to me.  I wanted to know the narrator and his relationship to his teacher better.

Overall this is a great piece of translated crime fiction that gives the reader a peak at the crime underworld of Tokyo.  I recommend it to fans of both unique crime fiction and works in translation.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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