This intriguing novel is the first of Japanese author Tomoyuki Hoshino’s works to be translated into English. Although obviously set in Japan, the setting is only referred to as ‘The Island Country’ and the time is equally opaque. In three sections, each with a different first-person narrator, we learn of the events following the sudden death of a young and popular emperor. A nation in shock is further traumatized to discover that the only possible successor is the dead emperor’s sister, an unprepossessing middle-aged woman who had previously shunned the limelight and who seems reluctant to shoulder the burden of becoming ‘Her New Majesty’.
While a deeply conservative country struggles to adjust to a changed reality, strange and disturbing events begin to manifest themselves. A spate of ‘memorial general strikes’ breaks out and traditional deference and order is increasingly eroded by a wave of random murders, assassinations of public figures and suicide pacts. As an increasingly authoritarian government imposes a savage crackdown, a group of young people retreat to a remote mountain lodge to seek refuge from the mounting carnage. Gradually, in opposition to the violence and chaos, a culture of local co-operation and mutuality begins to take root and, against the odds, people begin to rediscover hope and trust.
Although marred by a jarringly Americanized translation, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking examination of the ways in which, out of the rubble of feudalism and state repression, it is possible to build a society where sustainability and respect for others are the guiding principles.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7