Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review of "The Ghosts of Nagasaki" by Daniel Clausen

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and I'm glad I did. This is not a book I would have normally picked up unless I found it at my local thrift store, but I don't find very many indie books there.

"The Ghosts of Nagasaki" is not a horror story and it's not exactly about the after effects of the atom bomb blast (that's what I was expecting based on the title because I didn't read the synopsis), but rather it is the story of an American ex-patriot living in Japan, where he finds his ghosts, and some ghosts that maybe aren't really his. Maybe the ghosts have an easier time existing undetected in a place that has seen so much death. Maybe the combination of freedom, money and booze just led to a major introspection or psychosis on the part of the narrator. Whatever the reason, he has invited us along on his journey of self-discovery.

Like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, our narrator is in need of a heart. He walks, talks, and breathes, but feels as if he has a leaden weight where his heart should be. Growing up an orphan, he's never allowed himself to get attached to people until he meets Debra, who is taken away from him far too soon, a victim of the bureaucratic process. When he finds that he's grown into one of the bureaucrats he hates, he's compelled to start writing his memoirs to come to terms with the ghosts he met while teaching in Nagasaki.

This book is very surreal, changing times seamlessly so it's hard to keep track of what time frame in the narrators life we are currently in. One minute we'll be in a nomihodai in Nagasaki, and the next we're in the narrators high rise apartment in Tokyo. It truly feels like we're in the narrators head though, traveling into madness right there with him. I could relate to the narrator's feelings of connection with the ghosts of Nagasaki's past. Obsessed with Shusaku Endo's "Silence" (which I really want to read now) which is about the persecution of Christians in Japan, he meets the ghosts of the characters and sets out to help them find salvation or at least peace. Living in Germany, I too have encountered the ghosts of a persecuted religion when visiting Dachau concentration camp. You can't help but feel the spirits.

This is a heavier read and certainly not for everyone, but if you're willing to take a trip into madness, it is a wonderful book. Overall I give it 4 out of 5 stars for being well written and really making me think. - Katie

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