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Kiwinovelist Shuker's debut follows a set of gaijin—young international 20-somethings who have gravitated to ultrahip, fast-forward Tokyo—as one of their number goes missing. A young Wellington-born military historian researching the Rape of Nanking, Michael Edwards suddenly disappears from his coterie, and his ex-pat clan swings into action despite their own problems. Michael's sister Meredith, 22, rushes back from a U.S. trip and must negotiate their complicated family's concern, as well as her own lack of direction. Catherine (married at 24 and having recently ended an affair with Michael), Yasuhiko (a misfit ex-botanist drug dealer to the rich and foreign), New Zealander Simon and his occasional bedmate Jacques—all get involved to one degree or another, when they can stop thinking about fashion, sex or drugs. Shuker uses short sections titled by character to shift back and forth in time, place and perspective. Meredith tirelessly roots around her brother's life, but the complex, grandiose scope of Michael's research (which may hold the key) pales in comparison to the Tokyo appearance of Catherine's husband. Shuker's dizzying debut shimmers with authentic detail, an uncanny, otherworldly sense of place and a cast of believably hardcore hipsters. (June)
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Loner Yasu cultivates psilocybin mushrooms in his Tokyo apartment. Precocious college dropout Michael, the son of a wealthy New Zealand judge, is a rogue historian. When Michael disappears from his plush Tokyo digs, his sister, Meredith, flies in to search for him. She soon finds herself among a group of promiscuous fellow ex-pats who roam the enormous city, cell phones in hand, struggling with the language and feelings of alienation while consuming mass quantities of cigarettes, vending-machine beer, and drugs. As Meredith flounders, Yasu and his magic mushrooms dovetail with Michael's study of hidden Japanese war crimes in China during World War II. Shuker brilliantly captures Tokyo's edgy atmosphere and the cosmic loneliness of his characters in his overlong yet probing and imaginative debut novel, which possesses the frisson of Alex Garland's The Beach (1997) and a profound moral valence. How do we distinguish between the roles people play and their authentic selves? How contrived is history? How do we live with the knowledge of horrors such as the Japanese atrocities? Shuker poses daunting questions of conscience and compassion. Donna Seaman
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