Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
Knopf, 2007
Fiction; 355 pgs

Started: 01/27/2008
Completed: 02/05/2008
Rating: * (Good)

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.


  1. Cool! I'd heard this title bruited about, but hadn't yet read a review. Thanks for the head's up!

  2. Hmm, it sounds interesting. I do enjoy books set in Japan but I guess despite this novel having an inspector and the crime stuff it's not a very traditional mystery right. I'll have to keep this one on my radar.

  3. This book sounds interesting. I love mysteries. Maybe I'll add this to my list.

  4. I almost bought this yesterday, instead walking out of the store with Karin Fossum's WHEN THE DEVIL HOLDS THE CANDLE. But I do want to read it...

  5. Thanks for an intriguing review; I like that you added the note about the slow pace and that it would be good for discussion. I don't mind a slow pace, especially if the book lends itself to discussion.

  6. Clea - Most of the reviews I've been seeing for this one are pretty mixed. A lot of people seem to be hung up on the writing style. In a way, it's good to know I'm not the only one.

    It's definitely an interesting time period and setting. I'm glad I read the book.

    Iliana - In some respects it isn't your typical mystery, although the mystery element is definitely still there. I hadn't realized it was based on a true crime, which made it all the more interesting in the end.

    Nikki - Just be prepared for the unique literary style of the author. :-)

    Karen - I picked up a Craig Johnson book because of you recently. :-) I hope to get to it soon.

    Karin Fossum's another author I really want to try. I think I have one of her books on my shelf somewhere.

    I wanted to like Tokyo Year Zero more than I did. I let my expectations get too high, I think. I did enjoy the historical aspect of it very much and the mystery itself was interesting. I plan to look a little more into it.

    Jenclair - This is definitely a book that would be good for discussion. I wish I had read it along side someone else so I could talk to him or her about the ending. It was kind of a blur for me, but then, maybe that was the point. :-)

  7. Sounds intriguing, but I suspect I'd have similar issues with the writing style. Sometimes I'm not especially patient with literary tricks, although from what you're saying, they work here.

  8. Hi Wendy, this is another one I will add to my wishlist until I allow myself to start buying again. So far, the trick is working well on me. Haha!

    By the way, you're tagged with a book meme!

  9. Florinda - His literary style worked to a point, but it was a stumbling block. I think he definitely was able to create the mood he was after, but it still made for a difficult read.

    Alice - I am glad your goal is working for you! I'm trying to add to my wishlist instead of my TBR collection too, but I'm not having nearly as much luck as your having. :-)

  10. Hi - You're a winner! Come over to my blog and claim your prize.

  11. Sometimes I can read styles like this and sometimes not. A book club discussion sounds like a good idea for this one.

  12. It sounds like a perfect book for a book club discussion - otherwise? Not so much.

    You're a cat person who likes dogs! So good to have that cleared up. :)

    You picked up 47 books you didn't even read? I hope they weren't hardback full price! (Although it wouldn't surprise me if I've done exactly that myself. So many books. So little time.)

  13. Lynne - Oh, wow! Thank you so much, Lynne!

    Jaimie - Too, some authors can pull it off really well and others not so much. I don't think it worked quite as well as it could have in this case, sad to say. I do think the book had a lot to offer though and am glad I persevered.

    Carrie K - Haha I really liked the historical aspect of the book and the story was interesting. It was just hard to get past the writing style at times. I really do wish I had someone to discuss it with though--especially that ending.

    All 47 of the books I decided to part with were all mass paperbacks and most were books I bought through E-Bay in lots (multiple books being sold together), so it isn't nearly as wasteful as it might sound. :-)

  14. I'm glad to read your thoughts on this. When you first mentioned it, I looked it up on Amazon and read some of the reviews. Like you said, they were quite mixed with a lot of people complaining about the writing style. The historical aspect does sound very intriguing to me though. Hmm, maybe someday if it crosses my path.

  15. Tanabata - I noticed that too when I went back after posting my review to read what others had to say about the book. If you do decide to read it, I'll be really curious to know what you think.


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