A Man by Keiichirō Hirano

An interesting but disjointed and convoluted Japanese mystery in translation


As is all too typical these days, I can’t recall why I had A Man on my To Be Read list. Perhaps it was because the author is Japan’s award-winning literary sensation” and this is first novel to be translated into English. But for whatever reason the $1.99 Kindle price was right and I added the Audible version for a few dollars more.

Akira Kido is a divorce attorney whose own marriage is in danger of being destroyed by emotional disconnect. With a midlife crisis looming, Kido’s life is upended by the reemergence of a former client, Rié Takemoto. She wants Kido to investigate a dead man—her recently deceased husband, Daisuké. Upon his death she discovered that he’d been living a lie. His name, his past, his entire identity belonged to someone else, a total stranger. The investigation draws Kido into two intriguing mysteries: finding out who Rié’s husband really was and discovering more about the man he pretended to be. Soon, with each new revelation, Kido will come to share the obsession with—and the lure of—erasing one life to create a new one.

Because I purchased both the ebook and audiobook, this was another book that I both read and listened to at different times. I do this sometimes when I am juggling multiple books and employing strategies to maximise the books I finish (I was trying to read 100 in a year in 2020).

And that may have played a role in why I found it interesting but rather disjointed and/or convoluted. It seemed to meander and jump around and as a result left me rather confused as to what it was all about.

The explorations of identity and memory are interesting from both a storytelling and a philosophical perspective. What makes a person’s identity? Can you really start over, assume a new identity and change who you are? And on the flip side, there are uncomfortable questions. You met someone, fell in love, got married, had children, and only when your spouse suddenly dies do you find out they were not who they said they were. Does that retroactively change your relationship and history? Who was the real person? Does that change who you are because it changes the whole relationship?

There were also some interesting threads about Japanese culture and history. Their complicated relationship with Koreans, the growing nationalism and/or racial tensions, the earthquakes and related tragedies. This provides another layer of complexity and tension to the story. And again, I found it interesting in many ways but not sure it all tied together coherently. Quite often I found myself asking: Where is this going exactly?

And then the book just sort of ends.

Publishers Weekly has no such caveats:

As back-alley gritty and entertaining as a Raymond Chandler novel, the book asks what it means to be “you,” and suggests that the answer means nothing at all. Hirano’s stylish, suspenseful noir should earn him a stateside audience.

Complete-Review captured my sentiments better:

It all makes for a rather melancholy and — in its complicated investigations and its details — oddly wending-all-over-the-place novel, but also an interesting journey.

M.A.Orthofer

Wishfully Reading has a good wrap up as well:

Hirano’s Japan is vividly rendered. From its recent history to its social norms, Hirano’s novel provides plenty of insights into contemporary Japan. There are extensive discussions on Japan’s penal and legal system (given Kido’s line of work there is a lot on divorce and custody laws).

As much as I liked novel (identity concealment makes for a fascinating subject) I was deeply disappointed by the abrupt way it ended. After spending so much time with Kido, I felt cheated by those final chapters. Kido is seemingly discarded, and readers are left wondering what exactly he will do after he makes an important discovery.

Still, I would probably recommend this one, especially to those who are interested in learning about contemporary Japan or for those who prefer more thought-provoking and philosophical mysteries.

AnnaLuce

There are lots of 4 and 5 start reviews on Goodreads and Amazon if you want reviews of the more gushing type. For me, it was complicated.

Which, come to think of it, maybe that was the point…

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