Saturday, September 8, 2012


Naoko, by Keigo Higashino

Naoko is described as "a black comedy of hidden minds and lives" and a "critique of gender relations."  I'm not sure if I would call it either a comedy or a gender critique, but it was an interesting read.
Higashino is a best-selling, award-winning writer in Japan, but he's not very well known in the U.S.

Naoko is the story of a factory worker, Heisuke, and his  wife, Naoko, and young daughter, Monami. Naoko and Monami head up to Nagano on a ski bus to visit family, but tragically the bus drives off a cliff. Heisuke learns this information from the TV news.

Soon after he reaches the hospital, Naoko dies. When Monami wakes up from a coma, she is no longer Heisuke's daughter..Naoko has inhabited Monami's body. Sharing this information with no others (for fear of being not taken seriously or worse, ostracized or institutionalized), Heisuke and Monami/Naoko prepare to live their lives in this father and daughter rather than husband and wife.

Naoko goes to school and begins to realize that she has been given a true opportunity: to live her adolescence and young adulthood all over again. She realizes that she was never truly fulfilled or happy as a housewife, and she decides to get into a top private junior high and high school to begin pursuing her dream of medical school.

Factory worker Heisuke, who has rarely entered a library much less read a book, is stunned and saddened by this turn of events. When Naoko begins attracting the attention of boys her age, he becomes obsessively jealous, nearly destroying the tenuous and strange father-daughter relationship they had been trying to build.
At the end of the book, it's hard to tell exactly what the truth's the mystery. The comedy, however, was harder to find. I found this book to be sad. The story contains a wide variety of extra characters, many related to Heisuke's job or other accident victims. In the end, I'm not really sure why he included all these plot sidelines. Many of them didn't really add much to the story.

What I found most intriguing about the book was the idea of living your young adulthood all over again. If I could do so, I too would have studied harder, been more ambitious, and wasted less time. As far as the "gender critique," it's very soft. This book was truly Japanese, and I imagine better understood by someone who lived in Japan or understands Japanese culture. As the wife/daughter, Naoko was expected to wait on Heisuke hand and foot. She was not expected to have any aspirations of her own. This change in what is expected is what startled Heisuke.

Of course, it makes me wonder...when Naoko (Monami) gets married and has a family of her own, will she share the food preparation, shopping, cleaning, and other household duties with her husband? Doubtful. But at least showing a Japanese woman who is not happy with her lot as a housewife and has dreams beyond those four walls...that's a start!

This novel has also been made into a movie, Himitsu, but it doesn't seem to be easily available in the U.S.

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