THE THIEF by Fuminori Nakamura, Book Review

The Thief by Fuminori NakamuraThe Thief Synopsis 

The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. Most people are just a blur to him, nameless faces from whom he chooses his victims. He has no family, no friends, no connections…. But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can’t refuse. It’s an easy job: tie up an old rich man, steal the contents of the safe. No one gets hurt. Only the day after the job does he learn that the old man was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. And now the Thief is caught in a tangle even he might not be able to escape.

Translated from the original Japanese by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates.

Genre: Literature, Translation, Thriller, Crime

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There is an elegance to this novel, The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, that in my opinion makes it very worthy of the literary thriller tag. There is both an artfulness and objectivity to the thieving carried out by the narrator, that absorbs the reader.

Nakamura displays great skill in developing his unlikely protagonist — a character that engenders much empathy from readers despite undertaking criminal activity.

The only difference between me and the store dummy was the shoes. Keeping in mind I might have to run away, I was in sneakers.

I found the singular first-person narrative very engaging. The Thief is not naive to the ways of the world but he very much remains at the mercy of it. His intelligence and diligence towards his craft coupled with his emotional weaknesses combine to form an intriguing package.

Despite being a thief, he has an appealing moral code shaped by his life experiences; he has much more heart than other criminals he crosses paths with.

I appreciated the relative simplicity of this story and the directness of its telling. While still including a surreal element, it is very minor compared to that which feature in the works of many of Nakamura’s compatriots. Rather than the surreal, the weightiness, and at times bleakness, comes from the exploration of the concepts fate and identity, and the tenuousness of power and influence of individuals in society.

The cash was what I’d taken from the pervert the day before, but its previous owners were unknown. I thought about how this banknote had witnessed a moment of each one of these people’s lives. Maybe it had been at the scene of a murder, then passed from the murderer to a shopkeeper somewhere, then to a good person somewhere else.

I was impressed by both Nakamura’s minimalist prose and the high quality of its translation by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates.

The Thief is not a novel for those who like strong plots with everything tied up neatly by the final page. This is a book filled with things to ponder, and quite fittingly this story ends at a cliff-hanger moment, the resolution to which I am pretty sure the author never intends to commit to ink…  I know what I want to have happened, but I also know the scenario that is more likely to have occurred…

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5  –  Overall 4.25

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January in Japan

* This review counts towards my participation in January in Japan.

About the Author, Fuminori Nakamura

Born in 1977, Fuminori Nakamura (pseudonym) came to international attention when he won the 2010 Kenzaburō Ōe Prize for his novel, The Thief. Despite having published 10 novels and numerous short stories to date, the only other title by Fuminori Nakamura translated into English at this time is Evil and the Mask.

Other reviews of The Thief: Farm Lane Books; LeeswammesChasing Bawa