I’ve always been a huge fan of Haruki Murakami’s work, and for the longest time he was pretty much the only Japanese writer I paid attention to. Until one day I was browsing the ‘M’ and ‘N’ section of the library and came across Fuminori Nakamura. I picked up his book The Thief without even realizing that it is probably one of his most acclaimed works to date. I was heading off to Japan soon after, so I thought: what better way to get into the spirit than by trying out another Japanese author?
I learned later that Nakamura’s genre angles towards noir and this was something I really enjoyed about his work – especially after visiting Japan. The Thief takes you into the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and shows you a facet of the city that tourists rarely see in real life. Japan seems like a glitzy, glamorous, organized, and polite society on the surface, but Nakamura very skillfully shows you that there are many layers to life in Japan and some of them aren’t so pleasant looking.
The novel follows the adventures of a pickpocket as he gets embroiled deeper and deeper with questionable characters. He’s a sort of moral criminal (if there is such a thing) and even though you see him staking out train stations and choosing pickpocketing victims with the cunning eye of a cobra snake narrowing in on its prey, you can’t help but feel for him. Like Tokyo, there are many layers to the protagonist. On the one side he’s a petty criminal who takes advantage of the rich. On the other he’s a soft-hearted guy who tries to take a young boy under his wing.
In the end you’re left wondering if his moral stance, especially when he gets mixed up with some rather unsavory big-time criminals, actually did him any good. No matter how hard our pickpocket seems to try to live his life by his personal idea of right and wrong, he can’t seem to catch a break. Doom is always lurking somewhere in the background.
Overall, I really loved this book. It was easy to read and had me pretty engrossed from the get-go. I was especially fascinated by how Nakamura was able to describe the process of pickpocketing someone and the rush that came with getting away with the crime. I heard him speak at an event months later and he explained that he actually practiced pickpocketing his friends so that he would know the best ways to steal someone’s wallet without them realizing it.
I love an artist who commits to his work, don’t you?
Image attribution: GiantBomb