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Book Review: The Thief By Fuminori Nakamura

Translated by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates.

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura translated by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates Nishimura is a seasoned pickpocket, weaving through Tokyo’s crowded streets, in search of potential targets. He has no family, no friends, no connections… But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when his old partner-in-crime reappears and offers him a job he can’t refuse. Suddenly, Nishimura finds himself caught in a web so tangled and intricate that even he might not be able to escape.

When seen on the bookshelf the cover of black printed letters on bright yellow jumps out so it’s impossible to miss. The effect it has is perfect, and then once the book is opened and read, The Thief opens up a new world of thievery from one man’s perspective, Nishimura. He is an observer of people and enjoys working on his own even though that work involves stealing wallets from rich people while cruising the trains from station to station. He turns what could be potentially a look at human behaviour into a life’s work. He sees many people on his travels; the sort of men who are identified by what they have in their wallets. Not many he finds are honest; some are perverts who he spots one day groping a high school girl. Other men use escorts; one is a male escort who he finds uses recreational drugs.

Even though Nishimura is young, he has seen it all, people from all walks of life, but he only preys on those who already have the money and life style that goes with it. Nishimura isn’t a cruel man. Once he’s taken the money from the wallets, he posts them at a mail box where they would be handed in at a police station somewhere. Despite this he lives a rather mundane life of pickpocketing but the author gets us to see what he sees, not just the people he steals from.

In one chapter, Nishimura watches a woman with her child in a supermarket and from her clothes he can see she is poor, and she has her son thieve from the shelves. He approaches her, telling her she has been spotted by someone who works there and from what he can see, she will be arrested and most likely prosecuted unless she leaves the stolen food and vacates the supermarket. It is after about thirty pages the reader gets to see he has some humanity in him. He doesn’t like to see fellow thieves make mistakes that could make them poorer than they already are. Once the story is seen from his point of view the focus shifts onto someone from his own past, a man called Tachibana. He used to pickpocket for a living several years ago, but he tells him he is making a lot of money after being involved in a burglary ring, bank transfer scam and stocks, but before Nishimura can get any feelings of envy, he soon hears the real reason for the money – the Yakuza.

Whether Nishimura likes it or not, Tachibana pulls him into the dark world of organised crime he can’t escape from, and from his perspective his life from now on can only get worse. Some might find that the story was better before Tachibana got involved along with all his cronies, but rather than it being about one person, it’s good to see what happens to someone like Nishimura who prefers to work alone being dragged into a group who will stop at nothing to control him as he was a part of their group before. The question is whether he will be able to get out before it all goes wrong, or will the police intervene? Stephen Coates does a great job of translating the original Japanese story into an engaging plot with twists and turns right from the start. It feels like being a fly on the wall watching Nishimura’s daily escapades turn into possible dilemmas. For those who thought Japanese novels based on the lives of everyday  characters was boring, think again – this opens the eyes as well as is totally immersive.

(L) US  cover (R) UK cover

(L) US cover (R) UK cover

About Author: 

Fuminori Nakamura was born in Tokai, Aichi Prefecture, Japan on 2nd September 1977. His debut novel Jū (The Gun) won the Shinchō New Author Prize in 2002. Also received the Noma Prize for New Writers ini 2004 for Shakō [The Shade]. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize in 2005 for Tsuchi no naka no kodomo (Child in the Ground). Suri (Pickpocket) wont the Ōe Kenzaburō Prize in 2010. His other works include Sekai no Hate (The Far End of the World), Ōkoku (Kingdom), and Meikyū (Labyrinth)


Author: Fuminori Nakamura translated from the Japanese by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates

Format: Hardback, Paperback and Kindle

Pages: 224 pages

Publish date: 16th May 2013

Publisher: Corsair

Available from all good booksellers including Amazon.co.uk

Reviewer Profile:

Sandie has a keen interest in Anime, Manga and all things Japanese. Her interests other than reviewing are Japanese Language, dress and culture, liking Harajuku Girls, Gothic Lolita, folding some neat Origami, drawing her own Manga characters, writing her own Manga stories and everything in between.

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