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Book review and character list: パラドックス13 by 東野圭吾

Review

「パラドックス13」(read: サーティーン) is a novel by famous crime author Higashino Keigo. Contrary to what we may expect, 「パラドックス13」does not deal with crime and investigation, but with science-fiction. At least, an SF element gives the context in which the characters will evolve but we won’t know much about the scientifical phenomenon that stroke the Earth on March 13th.

At 1:13 pm on this fatal day, people mysteriously disappear from the surface of the Earth. Only 13 persons remain. The whole novel will see these 13 persons meet and try to survive in an environment becoming more and more hostile.

The novel gives his readers everything one may expect to find in this kind of survival adventure, making it a real page-turner. The most interesting part of the novel lays not in action, however, but in the interaction between the characters. How do 13 persons who don’t know each other get together and collaborate for the sake of the community? Will tensions lead to tragedy? Are sacrifices worth it? And do the values of right and wrong still make sense?

We see through this novel that Higashino Keigo does not need a murder to dig into his character’s psychology and contradictions.

As for the Japanese difficulty, I would say that this book was not easier nor more difficult than other books from Higashino Keigo, but contrary to crime novels, the reader does need to pay attention to details. The dialogues were easy to follow and scientific elements made very easy to understand. Every time the characters tried to understand what happened, they would reformulate it several times, in an easier way, in order for everyone to understand. Higashino Keigo’s point was clearly not to write an SF novel, but to see how 13 persons put together can interact with each other.

The only two challenging aspects of the novel were the very beginning and the description of natural disasters.

I always find the beginning of novels to be the most difficult part. We know nothing of the characters, we don’t even know where they are and if the author has decided to start his novel in the middle of a conversation, it makes things even more difficult. In our novel, the beginning is challenging because it introduces a lot of people with titles and positions (like Japan Prime Minister for example) that we have to understand to follow. This is why I made a list of characters, I am sure it can be useful to anyone reading this novel in Japanese!

The descriptions of natural disasters are difficult but you don’t really need to understand every word to grasp the general feeling that the world is falling apart. Images seen in  “end of the world” films can easily fill the gap left by unknown words.

I personally liked this novel very much. I found that it had a cinematographic atmosphere, I could easily imagine a film adapted from it. Every time the characters had to face a decision, I wondered what would have been my choice and I surprised myself, seeing that my convictions and my perception of right and wrong changed while I was accompanying the little community in its striving for survival.

The best way to give an idea of the book’s difficulty is to give an extract. I chose one that is representative of the book difficulty when it comes to descriptive parts.  Dialogues are much easier.

After all people around him mysteriously disappeared and fires started to occur here and there, our protagonist goes to the top of Tokyo Tower and take a look at the city (p.37):

展望台から東京を見下ろし、愕然とした。いたるところで火の手が上がっていた。教科書で習った空襲という言葉を彼は思い出した。あるいは、これまでにいくつかの地域で起きた大地震を思い浮かべた。しかしそれらとは全く異なる点が一つだけある。被害者が見当たらないということだ。

Reference: 「パラドックス13」、東野圭吾、講談社文庫、2014.

List of characters

The characters of chapter 1 only appear at the beginning so one does not need to know their names to follow the story. However, the first chapter is a little difficult, it is good to know each person’s position.

Chapter 1

田上・たがみ: Tagami is the executive secretary to the Prime Minister. The Japanese term is 首席秘書官.

大月・おおつき: Prime Minister. The complete name in Japanese is 内閣総理大臣・ないかくそうりだいじん but in our novel, he is simply called 総理・そうり.

堀越忠雄・ほりこしただお: Horikoshi Tadao is a 大臣・だいじん, that is, a cabinet member in charge of the 科学技術政策研究所 which is the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy. This institute is a branch of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

松山・まつやま: Matsuyama is the chief researcher of the High Energy Astronomy department (高エネルギー天文学) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) (宇宙航空機構).

永野・ながの: Nagano is the chief of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (宇宙科学研究所) which is a division of JAXA. In our book, the institute is called 宇宙科学研究本部 but I read in Wikipedia that the name of the institute changed in 2010 from “研究本部” to “研究所”. Our novel was first published in 2009, so it makes sense.

安西・あんざい: 国土交通大臣 Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

防衛大臣 Minister of Defense

文部科学大臣 Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

警察庁長官 Commissioner General of the National Police Agency. Even if he is not directly named in the story, we know that he was present.

From chapter 2

I spent some time trying to understand the difference between the position of the two Kuga brothers in the police. This difference is important to understand the relationship between Seiya and Fuyuki.

久我誠哉・くがせいや. Kuga Seiya is a 管理官 of the first investigation division 捜査一課. The 捜査一課 is one department inside what is called the 刑事部 (Criminal Investigation Department maybe?). The 捜査一課 deals with murder and robbery, as stated in Wikipedia.

上野・うえの: Ueno is Kuga’s subordinate 部下.

捜査一課張: Kuga’s chief.

刑事部長: The head of the criminal investigation department. We can also say that he is the chief of Kuga’s chief.

久我冬樹・くがふゆき Kuga Fuyuki is Kuga Seiya’s younger brother. We know that he is a police detective 刑事 too, but he is a 所轄刑事・しょかつけいじ, as his brother points at page 25. A little later, page 72, Fuyuki says, speaking of himself and Seiya, that they are both in the police but “兄は警視庁で、俺は所轄ですけど”. As I am not familiar with the police jargon, this sentence puzzled me. I made some research and I found this page with a very detailed and clear explanation. I am very grateful to the person who wrote this. As all this jargon seems to often appear in Japanese crime drama and films, I made a little scheme and placed our two brothers on it. My source is the above-mentioned link. I am not at all an expert… I may have made mistakes… (pdf version)

スケッチ

白木栄美子・しらきえみこ Shiraki Emiko is a young woman, divorced, mother of Mio.

ミオ Mio is the daughter of Emiko. She is maybe 5 or 6 years old.

新藤太一・しんどうたいち Shindo Taichi is a young and fat boy whose age is difficult to say.

中原明日香・なかはらあすか Nakahara Asuka is a high school girl student.

小峰義之・こみねよしゆき Komine Yoshiyuki is an engineer, he works for a big company in architecture.

戸田正勝・とだまさかつ Toda Masakatsu is a senior managing director, 58-year-old.

山西繁雄・やまにししげお Yamanishi Shigeo is an old man, married with Haruko.

山西春子・やまにしはるこ Yamanishi Haruko, an old woman, wife of Shigeo.

富田菜々美・とみたななみ Tomita Nanami, a young woman, a nurse in a hospital.

勇人・ゆうと Yuto, a baby.

河瀬・かわせ Kawase is a yakuza.

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