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BOUND TO PLEASE / What grows out of the barrel of a gun?

The Yomiuri Shimbun

By Naoshi Suzuki / Japan News Staff WriterThe Gun

By Fuminori Nakamura

Translated by Allison Markin Powell

Soho Press, Inc., 198pp

What would you do if you happened to find a gun?

“The Gun” is a fascinating, addictive thriller about a male college student who finds a gun one rainy night, near the right hand of a man lying dead on a riverbank. The story unfolds through the eyes of “I.” The protagonist, like the main characters in his other novels, may represent author Fuminori Nakamura himself.

Nakamura is only 38 years old, but his career has been dazzling. After being awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 2005, his first novel to be translated into English, “The Thief,” was chosen as one of the top 10 novels of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal.

Nakamura’s new story is currently being featured in the evening edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun.

“The Gun” is his first novel, originally published in Japanese in 2003.

The first-person narrative Nakamura employs was often and effectively used by two Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kenzaburo Oe and Yasunari Kawabata. The power of “The Gun” is similar to that of Oe’s 1961 pair of novels, “Seventeen,” about a 17-year-old boy who assassinates a leftist politician with a knife. 

However, unlike the young people of the 1960s, the protagonist of “The Gun” seems to have no interest in politics. The only thing in society that truly attracts his attention is the noise generated by a mother and son from the apartment next door.

“I could tell the woman was laughing her head off, and the kid was crying his eyes out. The crying sounded like it poured out from deep within his belly, so loudly that it was a little creepy,” Nakamura writes.

The man’s background is revealed little by little, showing why he wants to hold the gun and use it so much. His troubled upbringing explains the meaning of the gun for him: “I had told myself that if I didn’t think about things, then I wouldn’t be unhappy. Even if I had already been visited by misfortune, so long as I was unaware of it, or didn’t think about it, the unhappiness could not materialize. I had realized this, and put it into practice.”

Occasionally, he sleeps for as long as 15 or 16 hours, as if protecting himself from this emptiness. 

In the afterword for another novel in 2013, Nakamura revealed that he had a hard childhood, writing, “I experienced deep depression, sometimes close to the breaking point.”

From what I have read, the main characters in his novels are always carrying pain in their hearts and face extremely severe situations. Will the “I” in this novel manage to escape or be plunged into the depths? It is well worth finding out for yourself.

The translation by Allison Markin Powell is exemplary. Also responsible for translating works by Osamu Dazai, known as the “king of shishosetsu” (autobiographical stories), Powell always preserves the sense of shishosetsu in “The Gun.”

Of course the original Japanese is outstanding, but Powell’s translation might actually transcend it.

Where to Read

Inside a train running in a city area. Better to take the train in the evening just before rush hour, as this is the setting for a key scene in the book.

Maruzen price: ¥4,150 plus tax (as of June 22, 2016)Speech

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