Title: The Ghosts of Nagasaki
Author: Daniel Clausen
Publisher: Self Published
Published: December 8, 2012
Dates Read: April 1-15
Source: Received from the author
in exchange for an honest review
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My Rating: 3 Stars
Snippet That Stuck With Me: "For a moment they are solitary stars, tied together by an invisible shoelace. "(pg. 108)
One night a foreign business analyst in Tokyo sits down in his spacious high rise apartment and begins typing something. The words pour out and exhaust him. He soon realizes that the words appearing on his laptop are memories of his first days in Nagasaki four years ago.
Nagasaki was a place full of spirits, a garrulous Welsh roommate, and a lingering mystery.
Somehow he must finish the story of four years ago--a story that involves a young Japanese girl, the ghost of a dead Japanese writer, and a mysterious island. He must solve this mystery while maneuvering the hazards of middle management, a cruel Japanese samurai, and his own knowledge that if he doesn't solve this mystery soon his heart will transform into a ball of steel, crushing his soul forever. Though he wants to give up his writing, though he wants to let the past rest, within his compulsive writing lies the key to his salvation.
The first word I would use to describe this book would be confusing. It delves into the story right away, with very little background info. Which is good for setting a fast pace, but not so great for someone like me who enjoys the buildup of a backstory. At times I found myself not wanting to pick it back up again. But, once I did I was able to be pulled in enough to keep reading.
This is a stream of consciousness novel of sorts. Or maybe a novel with multiple streams of consciousness?
The book shifts perspective a lot, between the protagonists present day life as a business man in Tokyo, and his memories of his life four years ago when he first came to Japan to teach English. The story is also mixed in with what could be perceived by some as delusions or hallucinations. The story jumps can be unsettling, but they're also part of what draws you in in the first place.
I never really related to the main character on a personal level. There's not much told about him as a person, except that he is an orphan, who went through the foster care system and had it kind of rough. You actually don't even ever learn his name. I only knew it from an insert that the author sent along with the book.
My thought is that by not telling us his name and by telling the story from the first person perspective, the author might have been trying to make the story, as well as the pain the protagonist is running from more universal.
The story itself is somewhat dark, there's a lot of pain, and unresolved grief and a loss of his sense of self, on the part of the protagonist. It's likely why he attacts all of these ghosts, and other figments of his imagination, like Mr. Sparkles, a glittery dinosaur.
Mr. Sparkles actually made me laugh out loud. I thought of him as an alternate funnier, version of Mikey Welsh, the protagonists' roomate.
Along with ghosts and glittery dinosaurs, there are other added elements of magical realism in the book. The magical realism element is further solidified with the introduction of an island where one can go to procure and grow a brand new heart,fed by memories. This magical island seems to be some sort of limbo for the protagonist, between the current version of himself and the version of himself from 4 years ago.
There's a strange religious side to the story as well. One of the characters that Pierce attracts is a man who follows him around claiming that he's an apostate. In one scene the protagonist conjures up more of his ghosts who take this character and put him onto a cross in the middle of the ocean, and Pierce feels it his duty to rescue this man, against impossible odds. Then there's a secretive backstory that Pierce's first foster family were evangelicals, who were somehow horrible to him, and that the family who eventually adopt him are also particularly religious as well. I found the religious undertone confusing and at times disturbing.
The main message that I gathered from the story is that it's about a person who was trying to escape the pain of never having a place to really call home, and trying to recover from the death of the one person in life who seemed to truly understand him.
This story, while confusing, was told in an unusual and unique way.