I have read just one other book that was translated from Japan – The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto written by the acclaimed author Kenji Nakagami, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
So when I saw a copy of a book that was a translation yet again from Japan titled The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura; translated by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates, I jumped at it.
Was it worth my time? Yes and no – because this is a short and easy read.
What attracted me to the book was the fact that it is about a thief living in Japan. Japan is a land characterised with high moral integrity by travellers and travel bloggers alike. So for a story that is titled The Thief, what does that entail?
Here is the thief, a loner pickpocket, a very common form of thieving, right? Nope, he follows a moral code, something he shares with England’s Robin Hood – he will steal only from the rich! With his keen eye, he observes the crowded metro stations of Japan to find his victim. The victims are men; interesting that he does not target women (again is it his moral code or is this simply sexism?).
None of his victims get to know that they have misplaced their wallets (how cool is that!). He only uses the cash in the wallets and never the cards.
Half way through the book, his past comes back to haunt him and that is when the main “villain” of the thief’s life makes an appearance. The villain comes with his own code – wherein he believes that no matter what the thief does, his destiny or life will be controlled by someone else. Till the very end of the book, we can see how the thief tries to do so but that does not live up to the expected built up of the story.
The book has glamorised thieving. I wonder how that holds up in relation to the Japanese society, that values and cherishes honesty. This was the premise that I thought will set it apart. But, unfortunately that was not the case.
A loner pickpocket, who has sort of a sad past and cannot make connections with people, tries to steer clear a little boy from a similar life? The pickpocket trying to help the boy’s mother so that the boy does not have the same future like him?
Is he trying to find redemption?
Or is it simply too filmy for some of us?
Well it was for me. It was simply lacking creativity and was too predictable.
Through the book, there are instances where the protagonist pickpocket tries to warm his hands. I kept on wondering – why are they always cold? Was it a metaphor for his soul, that had gone too cold? With the arrival of this boy, they were warming up a bit? Or was it always warm but because of his “deeds” had become icy? I will leave it up to your imagination to figure it out!
Another problem of the book is simply that it fails to explore cities / cultures and people enough. These are the three major things I look out in a book and in that sense I am disappointed. You could refute that the writer need not always cater to the reader, but I was disappointed. I wanted to know more about the kid, his mother and the villains just seemed to be around to add some character to the thief, but it still felt very incomplete. I realise that sometimes things are just meant to be and we need not add any more layers, but this was too thin for me.
If you are okay with simply reading something from Japan, that is a short yet simple, go for this. But if like me, you find your bookshelf cluttered with the book, you can simply donate it.
The Mumbai folks can just head to mypustak.com and donate! The process is simple and cheap. They also have a cool collection which you could pick up as well at dirt cheap prices from the comfort of your home!
P.S. This is not a paid promotion but I simply found the website one fine day and loved the books on sale. Go check them out! 😀
Know of any other such interesting sites where one can donate books? Please share!
About the Reviewer:
Linda Shaji-Pauline is a feminist with a love for post-colonial literature. When she’s not at work, her motto is, “will walk for food.” You can often find her walking around all over the city in search of that new restaurant. She is still undecided if she loves music or books more but agrees that together they make the best combination. Together they make her life in finance very tolerable.