Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
Fiction; 355 pgs
First Sentence: ‘Detective Minami!’
Reason for Reading: The description of the novel caught my attention when I first heard about it through the Library Thing’s Early Review program. I was lucky enough to be selected to review the book.
Comments: I am not sure what to say or where to start. Tokyo Year Zero is a complex novel, full of several layers that take the reader into post-World War II Japan during the American occupation. With the end of war came despair, poverty, and shame mixed in with what remained of the country’s pride and lost hopes and dreams.
At the center of the novel is a true crime story, that of a possible serial killer who preys on young women, raping and murdering them. The fictional character of Detective Minami is assigned to head the investigation into the death of an unknown woman, which may be related to the murder of another young woman found in the same location. With hardly any resources available to him, Detective Minami has a difficult row to hoe. To close the case successfully will bring great honor to his team. To fail will bring shame and dishonor, something none of them want.
Perhaps more so, however, David Peace’s novel is about Detective Minami himself. His past haunts him; the part he played in the war is never far from his thoughts. His secrets are his own and yet they are not. He is an insomniac dependent on drugs for sleep. He keeps his distance from his family and is indebted to a local gang leader with an agenda all his own.
David Peace took an interesting stylistic approach when writing Tokyo Year Zero. At times it seemed like he was writing in verse or in a stream of conscience. It was a difficult read, not so much because of the subject matter, however brutal that was at times, but more because of the writing itself. David Peace intermixed action with thoughts, and often those thoughts were repetitive, phrases repeated over and over again. I admit to being annoyed at times with just how often certain phrases were inserted in a paragraph amidst the forward movement of the story, but after awhile I grew used to it--or at least almost. The stylistic writing slowed down the story quite a bit for me, making it more difficult to stick with for long stretches.
At the same time, however, the writing enhanced the story, bringing it all the more home that not only Minami’s life, but also the life of many people during that time in Japan was desperate and bleak. Women were prostituting themselves for food; lice and flea infestations were common and DDT was used as a cure. People lived in half bombed houses and shopped on the black market. Gangs and police corruption were rampant. The people were afraid and struggling to survive in the best ways they knew how. It was a very dark time in Japan and the author adeptly carried that tone throughout the novel.
Tokyo Year Zero was both compelling and interesting, especially from a historical and sociological perspective. Would I recommend Tokyo Year Zero? The book has a lot to offer, however, I think that the writing and the slow pacing of the novel may turn off many readers. After all is said and done, I did enjoy the novel and think this would be perfect for a reading group discussion.
Miscellaneous: Thanks to the author for putting a glossary at the end of the book. The author has a spattering of Japanese phrases and words throughout the novel, and I appreciated that the author took the time to define them for me.