A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

TOKYO UENO STATION

A ghost haunts a Tokyo train station, with history and tragedy much on his mind.

Kazu, the late narrator of Yu’s second novel to be translated into English, spent his life as an itinerant laborer, one of eight children who moved from his home in Fukushima to help build facilities for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Fukushima was the epicenter of the 2011 nuclear power-plant disaster, which also plays into the story.) Kazu recalls pieces of his life in digressive fashion as he wanders the grounds of a homeless encampment near a busy Tokyo train station. He listens in on conversations and recalls how he himself wound up residing there. His mood is scattered (“noises, colors, and smells are all mixed up, gradually fading away, shrinking”), but it’s soon clear in this brief, piercing novel that Kazu is circling around a series of heartbreaks, and when Yu finally hits on them—Kazu's separation from his family for work, the death of his son, the financial desperation that led to his homelessness—the novel gains a pathos and focus that justify its more abstract and lyrical early passages. As Kazu chronicles the funeral rites and his own fallen fortunes, the novel becomes a somber cross section of Japanese society, from the underclass to salarymen to the royal family to the homeless people subject to the whims of government (like the potential closure of the camp due to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics). Yu’s first novel in English, Gold Rush (2002), was a hyperviolent, American Psycho–esque tale of Yokohama street youth. This more restrained and mature novel is a subtle series of snapshots of “someone who has lost the capacity to exist, now ceaselessly thinking, ceaselessly feeling.”

A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08802-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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