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Book review: 『犯人のいない殺人の夜』by Keigo Higashino

About the book:

Titre: 『犯人のいない殺人の夜』(はんにんのいないさつじんのよる), Collection of Short Stories 1
Author: Keigo Higashino 東野圭吾
Published by 光文社文庫

This is a collection of short stories that were first published between 1985 and 1988 in different magazines. In other words, these short stories were written by Higashino at the very start (1985) of his career.

There are three volumes of short stories published by Kobunsha: 『犯人のいない殺人の夜』, 『怪しい人びと』and 『あの頃の誰か』.

Review

Not only did I love these short stories, but I was also glad to read some of Higashino’s first writings. All the short stories are entertaining, easy to read, suspenseful, and Keigo Higashino always manages to surprise his reader at the end, even in a 40 pages short story.

That being said, I don’t consider this collection to be the best I have read. I prefered 『嘘をもうひとつだけ』or 『探偵倶楽部』which are also collections of short stories. In these two books we follow the same detectives throughout the stories: Kyoichiro Kaga in the first one and the Membership Detective Club in the second one.

But I really enjoyed reading 『犯人のいない殺人の夜』. I need to read more books by Keigo Higashino to confirm this, but I think that I particularly like his writings from the 1980s and 1990s. While I found some of the short stories better than others, I also found that they all had this particular style that I love so much in Keigo Higashino’s books.

I read this book very fast and could not put it down once I started a short story. If you like short murder mysteries,『犯人のいない殺人の夜』is a good choice!

Plans for 2020

Now that I have passed the JLPT N1 (July 2019) and even took the test of December (still waiting for the results), how shall I continue to study in order to improve my reading skills and be able to read more difficult and challenging books?

My main goal in learning Japanese has never changed: I want to read all kinds of books in Japanese. Taking the JLPT (especially N2 and N1) has helped me considerably to progress towards that goal, mainly because the JLPT forced me to learn new words regularly, to learn new grammar and to read difficult texts.

And this is exactly what I shall continue to do if I want to keep improving my reading. Vocabulary is especially important, so I will focus on learning new words regularly in 2020.

So here are some of my plans for 2020:

Enjoy Japanese: read crime fiction

First of all, I will continue to read crime fiction and just enjoy it. I usually don’t need to look up words to read authors like Keigo Higashino, so I will just read for pleasure and don’t think of studying or improving my reading skills.

Build vocabulary #1: Difficult books

In order to complete my reading challenge for 2020, I will need to read more widely and to try new genres, to read nonfiction and even to read literary award winners. I will certainly come across a lot of unknown words and my goal is to add to Anki the words that I have looked up in my dictionary while reading.

This will certainly be the most challenging thing I do in 2020. I can read mystery novels, but as soon as I step out of my comfort zone, I really struggle. I start looking up words and feel discouraged when I realise that the next paragraph contains as many unknown words as what I have just been through. It is hard to force myself to 1) look up words and 2) add them to Anki and learn them. I am always tempted to just keep on reading because I can understand the general meaning anyway.

Build vocabulary #2: Use JLPT textbooks

I still have a Korean textbook for the JLPT N1 that I haven’t finished. I will certainly use it to add words to my regular Anki deck.

Build vocabulary #3: Read the news

I will continue to read the news in Japanese, but I will also try to learn new words through it. It is so convenient to read the news on my phone where I have access to any word’s meaning through the built-in dictionary, that I never really bothered to learn new words from the news. When looking up words is so quick, easy and convenient, it is sometimes hard to feel the urge to actually remember the words.

I have started a new Anki deck only for the words that I found in news articles. I know it’s best to keep everything in one place, but starting a new project from scratch has always been a motivation booster for me. I am also adding the names of politicians, their position inside the government or words on current issues like 国際観光産業振興議員連盟 and I don’t want them in my regular Anki.

Take the JLPT N1 in December 2020?

I know that this might sound very bizarre, but I am thinking of retaking the JLPT N1 in December 2020. The thing is that I sometimes need external motivation to get things done. I think that I will wait until the Summer of 2020 and decide then whether I register for the test of not. If I have learned vocabulary regularly as planned, I won’t take the test. But if I find that I have done nothing at all, maybe I will.

In any case, I can see at least two advantages of re-taking the JLPT N1, or even take it once a year.

If you say “my goal for this test is to get a better score than last year”, you will have a well defined and concrete goal to work towards throughout the year. It can be the external motivation that forces you to study regularly, especially if you have made a public commitment to improve your score and to publish your results.

Taking the JLPT every year can also be a good way to evaluate your progress and level from year to year. The JLPT scoring system is designed in such a way that any improvement in your score is meaningful. You don’t get a better score because this year’s test was easier or because you got lucky and was tested on the words you had learned. You get a better score because you were able to answer the questions that other test takers did not answer.

About my blog

I will certainly continue to post about the JLPT from time to time, but I won’t continue to post in my “JLPT journal” section once a month. I think of creating a new series to replace it, maybe a “reading journal” where I write about the books or passages that make me struggle 🤔

Conclusion

Having no study plan and no textbook to finish before a certain date really feels good! But I know that it might also mean that I won’t be studying at all in 2020… There is nothing wrong with that after all, but I keep thinking of all these books that I want to read but cannot because they are too difficult!

Book review: 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI

About the book

Title: 『父からの手紙』(ちちからのてがみ)
Author: Kenji KOSUGI 小杉健治
Published by 光文社文庫
428 pages

Kenji KOSUGI is a prolific author of mystery novels. 『父からの手紙』was first published in 2003.

Setting

We follow two main protagonists: Mamiko, a young woman whose father left the house and disappeared when she was a teenager and Keiichi, a young man who just got out of prison. They both start a quest to understand the past.

Review

『父からの手紙』is a good mystery novel with an engaging plot and a good balance between mystery and family drama. The importance given to the family and how broken bounds can affect members of the family, especially children, was an interesting topic of the book. It also made it very sad at times.

The end surprised me, and even though I didn’t end up in tears as the obi predicted that I would, I found that the story has a strong emotional impact.

I found that the novel got better the more I read. The beginning is relatively slow, but this feeling might be due to the summary I read on the back cover. I strongly recommend that you do not read the summary because it reveals a key event that only happens very late in the novel. As a result, the beginning felt slow because I already knew what would happen and was just waiting for it.

There are two things, however, that I did not like in the novel. The first thing is that there are a lot of repetitions throughout the book. The chapters alternate between the story of Mamiko and Keiichi, and I found that each time we met a character again, we had to go through all the thoughts and interrogations they had had during the preceding chapter.

Another thing that I found frustrating is the way the novel holds back information from the reader, especially in the story of Keiichi. It takes a lot of chapters before we learn about his past, and why he went to prison. I think that an author can create two types of mystery: 1) things that both the character and the reader do not know, 2) things that the character knows but not the reader. I find that using this second type of mystery is frustrating for the reader, creates distance between the reader and the character and is not a real mystery as far as the plot is concerned.

Partly because the summary on the back cover had spoiled the first half of Mamiko’s story and partly because of the frustrating holding of information in the first half of Keiichi story, it took me some time to get into the story. But once the two characters started investigating the past, the novel became unputdownable. In spite of the things that I didn’t like, I still enjoyed reading this book and recommend it if you like family mysteries.

Reading challenge for 2020!

Happy New Year!!

It’s finally this exciting time of the year when we can set our new resolutions and goals. I don’t have concrete language goals for 2020, but I do have a reading challenge!

My reading challenge for 2018 and 2019 has simply been a list of titles that I wanted to read during the year. I had a list of 13 books in 2018 and 23 books in 2019.

I wanted to do something a little more exciting and also more flexible for 2020. Instead of having a list of titles, I will have several small reading challenges to complete! I am very excited about this.

Read more non-fiction

I have been wanting to read more non-fiction in Japanese for a long time, but I have never got down to doing it. The problem is that I never took the time to make a proper search to look for topics that interest me. I sometimes look at the list of best-selling books, but they are often self-development and business, which is not what interests me the most.

I will certainly spend some time browsing titles on Amazon! I am interested in books on workplace/work culture and social problems in general. I also want to tackle more difficult topics like death penalty in Japan. I would also very much like to read a book on the Pacific War written by a Japanese author. It will certainly be extremely challenging, but if I focus on that in 2020, it might be possible. Finally, I would like to read a book on South Korea and the relationship between the two countries.

These are just some ideas that I have now, and I may change my mind in the course of the year. In any case: 5 nonfiction books in 2020!

Go on with the Kaga series!

The Detective Kaga series by Keigo HIGASHINO has a special place in my heart. First of all, I love the series and I love Detective Kyoichiro KAGA, I think that he might be my favourite fictional detective of all time. Secondly, the first novel I read in Japanese is the first book of the series, so to me, these books are not only great detective novels, but they are also deeply connected to my learning Japanese journey.

I have read the first 8 books of Detective Kaga’s investigations. It is now time to catch up with the series and read the two remaining titles.

Read literary fiction!

Another one of my long-time goals: read more literary fiction. I guess that by “literary fiction” I mean books that don’t focus on the plot only, have complex and realistic characters, eventually deal with moral or social issues and are “well written”…? It is convenient to use the term “literary fiction” though it is sometimes difficult to say whether a book falls in this category or not, and many books of genre fiction have these characteristics too.

I was wondering how I would pick my books when I thought it would be nice to read winners of literary awards. I will certainly choose among the recent winners of the Akutagawa Prize. I have read 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA (村田沙耶香), and though it was difficult to read, it was not impossible either. On the other hand, I have also tried to read Naoki MATAYOSHI’s (又吉 直樹) 『火花』and this was just way too difficult…

Open up to new genres!

I also intend to read more genre fiction in 2021 and want to discover other genres that are not crime or detective fiction. (I will obviously continue to read crime fiction, but I don’t need to include that in my challenge.)

I am thinking particularly of romance and historical fiction, though the latter might be too difficult to read in Japanese… I might also try some speculative fiction if I find something interesting.

Read Haruki MURAKAMI in Japanese

This is something that I want to do for a long time: determine whether I like Haruki MURAKAMI or not by reading his books in Japanese. I have read one or two books by Haruki MURAKAMI in their French translation, and to be honest, I never understood what made his books so special. It is not that I disliked them entirely, I remember that I found some short stories very interesting, but I could not see why he was so popular.

Now that I can read in Japanese, I want to try to read his texts directly, and maybe understand why so many readers love his books. I am not at all blaming the French translation, but I think that reading in translation did have an impact on my reading experience. For example, I have read one or two books by Keigo HIGASHINO in their French translation before learning Japanese, and while I found them interesting and very different to the detective/crime fiction I was used to reading, I haven’t become the avid reader of Higashino I am now.

Conclusion

Every year I tell myself that I want to read more of this and that but rarely get down to doing it. I guess that my goals are always too vague, and I tend to forget them as the year goes on.

I am sure that setting smaller and more concrete goals with numbers and boxes will help me to complete them. I will update the cards (add titles and check those boxes) as I progress and incorporate them into my book reviews whenever I finish a book that was part of a challenge.

I also thought of other challenges like “finish this book” or “read the books I purchased and never read”, but I thought that this would feel like chores, and I wanted to keep my reading challenges for 2020 exciting and fun. So I picked only things that I want to do, not that I feel that I have to do.

There is a book though, that I really would like to finish next year:

This book is 500 pages long and I have reached page 149, this means that I am nearing the end of the chapter 日清戦争. I read it very slowly, checking facts and names on Wikipedia, looking up words, taking notes… This is my extra challenge for 2020, but I won’t be distressed if I cannot complete it.

Do you have a reading challenge for 2020 (Japanese or other)? I know a lot of people set themselves a number of books they want to read during the year. My secret goal is to read 30 books in Japanese in 2020, but it might be unrealistic, especially if I tackle challenging books 😅 What is yours?

I wish you the best for 2020!

Read in 2019: 27 Japanese books!

Now that we are saying goodbye to 2019, it’s time to look back on all the books I have read since January. Most of them come from my reading challenge for 2019. I have read a total of 27 books, which is an absolute record for me! However, I feel that my readings were more diversified in 2018, and even though I read more this year, I mainly chose mysteries and detective novels.

My 3 favourite books this year!

My favourite book is without a doubt 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO. He is my favourite author of genre fiction, so it is no surprise that his books always figure among my favourites. However 『新参者』 is special. I could have spent the whole year following detective Kyoichiro KAGA as he solves mysteries in his new neighbourhood. It is a great detective novel with an exciting investigation, but it is also a novel about the people who detain a key to the mystery, their family and their secrets. I highly recommend it!

Next, we have『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI. This book does not have outstanding reviews on Amazon, but I loved this mystery/crime novel. First of all, it is a good murder story with an engrossing investigation, but what I loved most of all is how the author plays with his reader and intentionally misleads us.

Finally, I have to bring 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO to the top three. I like office/work-related stories because Japanese working habits are so difficult to understand to me that I am eager to hear more about it. This novel is a little on the “light” side, especially towards the end, which annoyed me a little because I prefer reading more realistic novels, but the energy, the optimism and the good-humoured tone of the story made it an enjoyable read.

My 3 favourite characters

Without a doubt, my favourite character is Kyoichiro KAGA… the problem is that, although I only read one book by Keigo HIGASHINO this year, I could include it in every list that starts with “my favourite…”. So let’s pick 3 characters that I have “met” for the first time this year:

Yasuhiko MUKOUDA, the barber of the little town Tomazawa who appears in 『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA. In fact, I should include all the other characters of the book because all the inhabitants of Tomazawa have warmed my heart and made me smile. The stories in 『向田理髪店』 are about people, their hopes, disillusions and dreams, even the brief ones. I loved it, it is a warm-hearting read. Highly recommended!

The reason why I loved Sadato SAKATA, the protagonist of 『検事の本懐』by Yuko YUZUKI, is because he shares similarities with Kyoichiro KAGA… Of course, he is a different character, but still some depictions of his personality, the way he works and thinks reminded me of Higashino’s famous detective… Sadato SAKATA is a public prosecutor, he does not say much about himself or his past, he is diligent in his work but follows what he thinks is right, which is sometimes in conflict with the system or his hierarchy. I want to read more books of the Sadato SAKATA series to get to know the character better.

Finally, I loved the character of Saburo SUGIMURA from the novel 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE. This novel is the first book of a series featuring Saburo SUGIMURA. 『誰か』is not one of my favourite novels, it is slow-paced, the mystery in it is not that gripping, and it took me quite some time to finish it. What made me continue reading it is the protagonist. He is a just an ordinary nice person who wants to do things right, it is easy to feel close to him, and I will certainly read other books of the series in the future.

Best Mysteries: 3 books I couldn’t put down

Obviously, I loved『新参者』and it was so engrossing that I was able to read it on a plane. This was the first time in my life that I was able to read a book on a plane (I usually feel so anxious that I can hardly concentrate on a film, even less so a book). But『新参者』was so good I managed to put my fears aside and read for most of the flight.

But let’s pick three other books:

The two books by Sin NAKAMACHI were unputdownable. I found that 『天啓の殺意』was more engrossing than 『模倣の殺意』, but if you like one, you will also like the other. They are similar in two ways. First, they both challenge the reader by trying (successfully in my case) to deceive you. Another similarity is the topics chosen. In both, a writer is involved and we get to know a little about the publishing world. Some sceneries (like the hot-spring baths hotel) are also featured in both novels. These are exactly the kind of detective novels that I like.

I read 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI very recently, and it was a real page-turner! The protagonist suffers from anterograde amnesia and has to face a murderer who can add fake memories to people’s mind. This confrontation leads to interesting thoughts about how our memory works, but it is more a psycho-thriller than a book on memory or a serious depiction of amnesia.

Other books that were engrossing and had the qualities of a page-turner are:

  • 『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ジャッジメント』by Yuka KOBAYASHI (short stories)

Books with interesting topics

Here are some books that I loved because they had interesting topics, addressed social problems or simply gave me things to think about.

Non-mystery books

The book with the most interesting topic to me is 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO. If you are interested in Japanese work culture, this one is a great choice because it is highly entertaining and does not contain a lot of difficult, work-related discussions.

The two following books are different in their themes and tone, but they have a similar structure: through different stories, we follow the daily life, struggles and hopes of several characters. They all live in the same neighbourhood or town and have learned to help each other because nobody else will.

In 『下町やぶさか診療所』by Yo IKENAGA, we follow a local doctor, his patients and friends. The doctor’s office is a central place where people, often elderly people, come to talk rather than get treatment.

『向田理髪店』by Hideo OKUDA is about the small town of Tomazawa which lost its vitality and youth when the coal mine shut down. Those who remained have seen young people leaving, shops shutting down and facilities degrading. But some of them still keep the hope of seeing their town flourish again. Any novelty is welcomed, gossip is everywhere, small dramas arise, but the inhabitants keep their dreams and are always there when someone needs help.

Mystery and thrillers

『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU tackles the problem of school bullying but not in the way you would imagine. It also asks interesting and difficult questions about how far should we go to prevent school bullying.

While it was a little difficult to read, 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA contains interesting thoughts about organ donations in Japan and brain death (which is apparently controversial). The problem is that these discussions were introduced in the middle of what was supposed to be a suspenseful police investigation to track a serial killer… I found that both the story and the discussions on organ donation were interesting, but they didn’t work well together.

『検事の本懐』by Yuko YUZUKI is a collection of short stories and one in particular really caught my interest. Public prosecutors from different regions are called to Tokyo to investigate a political scandal. From browsing tons of documents to interrogating persons related, the prosecutors found themselves in a whirlpool of unpleasant work and difficult choices. It was depicted in a realistic way and it was exciting to see behind the scenes.

I would not recommend it to everyone because it contains several scenes of physical and psychological tortures, but Tetsuya HONDA’s novel 『ケモノの城』explores the relationship between victim and aggressor and depicts how some people can renounce their liberty and fall under the control of a violent, authoritative figure.

Speculative fiction

Maybe there’s a relation between speculative fiction and a chair? 🤔

Yasumi KOBAYASHI asks an interesting question about our memory in『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』: what if someone could insert fake memories inside your head? How far would it affect your behaviour and your beliefs? I found these reflexions fascinating, and it made me want to read more about how our memory works.

In『ジャッジメント』, Yuka KOBAYASHI creates a fictional Japan where the law of retaliation is applied. People who have been injured or relatives to a person who has been murdered have the right to inflict exactly the same treatment to the aggressor: “an eye for an eye”. The book is mostly centred on ethical choices and considerations: will the victims choose to avenge themselves? What will they learn about themselves in the process? How well did they know the one they lost?

Books that I liked but not that much

The followings are books that I liked but not as much as I thought I would. The reason is mainly that these books were not what I expected them to be.

First of all, 『6月31日の同窓会』by Yukiko MARI had a promising setting: people receive this mysterious invitation for June 31st and… die? Unfortunately, I found that it lacked a driving energy that would make me want to continue to read. I felt that the characters were passive and that there was no real investigation to solve the mystery.

『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU was also not as good as I expected it to be. It is a good thriller, suspenseful, engrossing and so on…. but it was just that. The thing is that this novel was a huge best-seller in South Korea, number 1 in the biggest online and offline bookshops of the country. Well, it is a good thriller, but not very original or inventive, and the end was not really convincing to me.

『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI was a good book too, but not one of my favourites. The characters and the story are good, but I found that there were a lot of repetitions, especially when the author described how the characters felt. At several times, I had the impression that I had read the same sentence or a very similar one in a previous chapter.

Finally, I think I should bring 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA to this list. I loved several aspects of this book, but I was disappointed to find out that I was not reading a novel but a collection of short stories. The back cover clearly states that everything will make sense in the end, making you believe that you are reading a novel. While I did enjoy the short stories, I also felt a little let down and frustrated that the promising and exciting beginning of this “novel” led to nothing after all.

Difficult books

Without a doubt, the most difficult book that I have read this year (apart from the ones I gave up on) is『ボクたちはみんな大人になれなっかた』by Moegara. Honestly, I don’t know what kept me reading when I had such a hard time understanding some passages!

Apart from this novel, I haven’t struggled much. I will just list the three books that were more difficult than the others:

『追憶の夜想曲』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA is a legal thriller. I had no problem following the story but there were passages that remained opaque to me. Especially a long discussion at the beginning of the novel. I think that one of the reasons why the beginning was difficult is because I haven’t read the first book of the series and『追憶の夜想曲』, which is the second book, refers to events that happened, I imagine, in the first book.

Same author, same difficulty level: 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA. Here again, I was able to follow the police investigation but the parts about organ donations and the medical and ethical reflexions related to it were difficult.

Finally, it is hard to recall exactly because I read it in January, but if I remember correctly 『誰か』by Miyuki MIYABE had some challenging passages too.

Easy books

It is very hard to give advice concerning easy books to read in Japanese. If you ask me, I will answer that any book by Keigo HIGASHINO is the easiest one. I do think that his books are easy to read, but there is also the fact that I have read 15 books by now, and I am used to his writing.

Apart from 『おはなし・ねこあつめ』written by Haruka SHIOTSUKI, I haven’t read a book that was obviously easier than the other ones. Neko Atsume is a book for children based on the popular mobile game by Hit-Point. It is a collection of short stories with illustrations. As it is often the case with books for children, Neko Atsume contains vocabulary that Japanese learners might not know, but it has only very few kanji and all have furigana. The illustrations also make it easy to understand what happens.

It might not be the easiest book on this list, but 『継続捜査ゼミ』by Bin KONNO is worth noting because it is mainly based on dialogues. A professor and his students study unsolved crimes of the past and also work on some campus mysteries. In most of the scenes, they will sit in the classroom or a restaurant and discuss the cases. I found this book engrossing, easy to read and unique in its structure.

After that, there are a bunch of mystery novels that all have a similar difficulty level. I could read all of them without looking up words and I don’t recall that they had particularly difficult passages:

  • 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO
  • 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI
  • 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI
  • 『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ジャッジメント』by Yuka KOBAYASHI
  • 『模倣の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI
  • 『誓約』by Gaku YAKUMARU
  • 『ケモノの城』by Tetsuya HONDA

Entertaining books

I have read several novels that are for entertainment only and don’t really bother to build credible situations, settings and characters. They usually have unrealistic elements every time police procedurals are involved.

Two of these books were similar in setting and very close to the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson duo as depicted by the BBC series “Sherlock”:

Shiki KUZUMI says himself that his book 『推理作家(僕)が探偵と暮らすわけ』is inspired by the BBC series: a detective and a writer move in together and solve crimes together.

『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』by Yugo AOSAKI is more original because the two characters are both detectives. But you cannot help but see similarities, especially since one of the characters compares himself to Sherlock Holmes and his colleague to John Watson.

By the same author, 『図書館の殺人』was also on the light side. The investigation was very interesting, but it was conducted by a high school student who works together with the police…

Finally, we have 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』by Miaki KATO where a young female police officer works with retired police officers who live together. I liked this book, I found it original and I liked the general atmosphere of it. I wish the cases were more engrossing or suspenseful, but overall, it was a refreshing read.

I have chosen these books mainly because I thought they would be easier to read than the others. This was not always true, however. The books that I mentioned above were as easy or even easier than these “light” novels. I think that the main cause is not the Japanese level, but simply that I find realistic novels more engrossing.

While I did enjoy reading the first three titles, I must also say that I am tired of this kind of detective fiction where solving crime is a game, where detectives have “sparkling eyes” when confronted with a particularly tricky puzzle, or where they are young genius with high deduction skills, often eccentric, childish or unpleasant. In these stories, the plot is mainly centred on solving the crime, and little is said about how this tragedy affects people. I think that I will take a break from this kind of fiction next year.

Nonfiction books

I wanted to read more nonfiction in 2019, but I have not. I read a self-development book 『学びを結果に変えるアウトプット大全』by Shion KABASAWA which I liked. It stresses the importance of output in your learning process, and this is something that I really need to integrate more in my studies. I realise now that I do remember quite well what the books I have read this year are about, and how I felt when I read them. I am sure that is because I wrote a book review for each of them.

2019 has been a year of tensions between Japan and South Korea, and I wanted to know more about anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. I chose the best-seller 『今こそ、韓国に謝ろう』by Naoki HYAKUTA, and I was shocked to see that 1- such books are being published and that 2- it was a huge success. The whole purpose of the book is to belittle Korea, assert the superiority of Japan over its neighbour and mock Korean culture. It only addresses the questions of forced labourers or comfort women in a very dishonest way and focuses mainly on justifying the annexation of Korea, using outdated colonialist arguments. This book only stimulates anti-Korean sentiment among its readers and more generally, encourages racism.

Conclusion

And that’s all the books I have read in Japanese in 2019!

I wish that I had read more widely instead of restricting myself to mysteries, thrillers and detective novels. But 2019 was the year of the JLPT N1, and I needed my readings to be easy and relaxed. For 2020, I will focus my energy on reading more genres and nonfiction. I want to read not only more difficult books but also more different books and widen the range of books I can read in Japanese.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Happy Holidays!

I will not be able to post in the category “Inhae reads the news” on the 25th because I haven’t read the news during the month of December. I was not really in the mood for some serious news studying after the JLPT and with the holiday season approaching, it was even more difficult to sit at my desk…

But I will be posting about the books I have read in 2019 on the 31th and my schedule should be back to normal on January 1st when I post my reading challenge for 2020!

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the last days of 2019!

Book review: 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI

About the book

Title: 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』(さつじんきに まつわる びぼうろく)
Author: Yasumi KOBAYASHI 小林泰三
Published by 幻冬舎文庫

Yasumi KOBAYASHI is an author of SF, horror and mystery novels. His novel『アリス殺し』is very popular in Korea (I have often seen it among the steady sellers), but I had never read Yasumi KOBAYASHI before.

Setting

Our protagonist, Nikichi TAMURA, suffers from anterograde amnesia. He cannot create new memories and forgets everything new (what has happened, why he came where he is, what he wanted to do) after 10 minutes.

The 殺人鬼 mentioned in the title is a man who can inject new memories in other people’s mind.

Review

I enjoyed reading this book very much, but it was not what I expected. I think that I was misled by the cover which does not look like the cover of a suspenseful psycho-thriller. I thought this book would mainly be a realistic depiction of what it means to live with anterograde amnesia, and that it would simply have some kind of mystery element attached to it. It was the reverse: this book is mainly a suspenseful thriller that incorporates thoughts and elements linked to amnesia and memory.

I don’t mean to say that I was disappointed in the book. On the contrary, I was engrossed in it from beginning to end,

There are interesting thoughts about how our memory works and how much we can trust it. It also shows, through the character of the “殺人鬼” how much we rely on it, to the point where we can go against our interests, values and personality. The author asks the question: what would happen if someone could inject new memories in your train of thoughts? The answer really sent shivers down my spine!

(I happen to be reading The Body by Bill Bryson as I write this review, and I have just read the passage saying that “it is possible through suggestion to implant entirely false memories in people’s heads” (p.56), even convince people that they committed and were arrested for a crime in their youth, to the point where they actually recall the event and add “vivid incriminating details” to this imaginary past (see footnote 3). This is fascinating and scary! 😮😱)

If you are looking for a page-turner,『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』is exactly that. It is suspenseful, easy to read, has a lot of dialogues and also contains fascinating thoughts about memory. But be aware that it does contain violence and I found every scene related to the 殺人鬼 relatively disturbing… I even made a horrible nightmare clearly inspired by the book after reading it, haha!