A major Japanese prize-winning book (Naoki, 1998) and film (Akame shijūya taki shinjū misui, 2003; in English, Akame 48 Waterfalls), Paradise is an unflinching meditation on late-20th-century disconnection.
Middle-aged Ikushima, once again a self-described “corpse” in shoes and suit, recalls his drifting life 12 years ago: after abandoning his meaningless advertising job, he eventually settled in a squalid apartment in an industrial town, “eking out a living sticking bits of animal organs and chicken meat onto skewers.” He initially observes his fellow inhabitants – prostitutes and johns, a volatile tattoo artist and his young son, the artist’s enigmatic lover, various gang members – with a detachment that gradually fades. A surprise liaison proves dangerous and sends him on the run again. That Kurumatani’s reputation is defined by his shishõsetsu (a Japanese literary genre of realistic, autobiographic novels, translated as the “I-novel”) adds poignancy to his protagonist Ikushima’s desperation.
Verdict: Gen-Xers with nihilistic literary preferences (“There’s no fundamental meaning or value in human existence,” Ikushima repeatedly insists) looking for a fast, gritty read need look no further.
Published: 2011 (United States)