A Man by Keiichiro Hirano/translated by Eli K. P. William (Book Review)

If you had the opportunity to trade lives with someone else and allow them to finish out the rest of your life, would you do it? This was an incredibly complex fictional narrative that will likely require a re-read to fully explore the themes discussed.

A Man was first published in 2018 in Japanese and won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature. The English translation was published in 2020. It follows the story of a middle aged lawyer named Akira Kido who investigates the recent death of Daisuke Taniguchi. Kids is asked to investigate the death because Taniguchi’s wife, Rie Takemoto, discovers on the anniversary of her husband’s death that he was not who she thought he was. The story encompasses an almost desperate search to find one man’s true identity.

The central theme of this book was about what determines a person’s identity. Is it their past, family, culture/nationality or possibly what they want to create their identity to be? The concept of concealing one’s past is a popular one in contemporary fiction, but the angle used in this story was a unique one. It wasn’t necessary one of deception, but actually an attempt to recreate one’s life likely for the good of the community and future generations. I enjoyed noting the symbolism in that Daisuke’s character was actually “played” by at least three other characters in the novel. It definitely added to the idea of trying to put yourself in another’s shoes in order to understand those whose are different than you. In the process, we observe that we are much more alike than we think.

I selected A Man in honor of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month. These occasions afford me the opportunity to learn about other cultures through the eyes of literature. I found the Korean discrimination described in the book somewhat relatable as an African American. “It’s unbearable to have your identity summed up by one thing and one thing only and for other people to have control over what that thing is.” I believe this quote resonates with anyone who has suffered prejudice by having their identity limited to only one aspect of their persona be that race, gender, nationality, religion, etc.

An interesting idea presented, regarding family dynamics, involved the relationship between husband and wife being deeply affected by the relationship between one of the parents and the child. For example, Rie Takemoto’s first marriage was dissolved because of her husband’s attitude towards their son. A similar conflict is described between Akira Kido and his spouse in relation to their son.

One challenge for me as a native English speaker was keeping the characters straight. For the names which were one or two syllables (Rie or Kido), this was not a problem. However, the multisyllabic names became increasingly confusing and I also had difficulty determining gender. This was not so much a fault with the writing, but more so my inexperience with Japanese or Korean language structure. I am noting this as something to keep in mind when considering this book.

Two things I found less favorable were the limited imagery in regards to the setting and also the very complex dialogue among the characters. I would have liked to experience more visual imagery of the Japanese cities described as well as the food and home life. Also, some very complex ideas were examined through the characters’ dialogue and it was hard to imagine these types of conversations occurring within certain settings. Also, the main character, Kido, experienced a great deal of psychological internal conflict which honestly left me quite annoyed with him at times for making things so difficult.

Overall, A Man was a very interesting read which lead me to reflect about human and cultural identity, family dynamics, love and redemption. The best description of this novel would be that it is profoundly thought-provoking. It will require some reflection and discussion to full appreciate the themes presented. This novel would make an excellent book club choice.

To support the cost of running this blog, I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I obtained an ebook copy of this novel through Amazon Prime First Reads to which I have a paid subscription. All opinions are my own.

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