A violent Japanese teen murders his father and tries to take control of his gaming business in Yu's lurid, graphic American debut. At 14, Kazu Yuminaga spends his days and nights roaming the slums of Yokohama, doing cocaine and getting into trouble with his friends; his violent tendencies suddenly escalate when he attacks the family housekeeper, then a valuable show dog and finally his father, who runs a lucrative string of casinos. Kazu manages to dispose of his father's body beneath the family home, but his attempt to seize the company goes sour when he has to make a series of problematic deals, first with his father's girlfriend and then with two company executives planning to block his takeover bid. The teenager tries to bribe his estranged mother to circumvent their opposition, but his plan unravels when he dives into a passionate affair with the family's new housekeeper, who demands that Kazu turn himself in when she realizes what he has done. Yu has some rough moments early on as she tries to establish sympathy for her emotionally and morally frozen protagonist, but once she hits her stride, the novel becomes a captivating analysis of a psychological meltdown. The ending, which features one of the most unlikely trips to the zoo in any recent novel, ventures into the surreal. Yu's approach and style may be an acquired taste, but her U.S. debut represents a new choice for American readers who enjoy Japanese fiction.
Inspired by a real-life story, this novel is best summarized by 14-year-old protagonist Kazuki's comments after confessing to the murder of a classmate: "Reality was becoming fictionalized, and fiction was becoming more real." One of Japan's best-selling authors, Yu won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1997 for her short story "Family Movie." Her first work to be translated into English follows the privileged life of Kazuki, the youngest child of successful pachinko parlor owner Hidetomo Yuminaga. A dark and deeply disturbing novel, it enters the mind of this seemingly loving "protector" to brother Koki, afflicted by Williams Syndrome, and sister Miho, a repeated victim of their father's physical abuse, and shows how Kazuki is transformed into a cold-blooded and callous murderer. Not for those looking for a "gentle read," but public libraries with demand for psychological novels and Asian literature may find this unsettling story of interest. Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
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