cover image Death Sentences

Death Sentences

Kawamata Chiaki, translated from the Japanese by Thomas Lamarre and Kazuko Y. Behrens. Univ. of Minnesota, $17.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-8166-5455-0

A mysterious young poet with uncannily large eyes named Who May appears on the fringes of the expatriate French Surrealist scene in New York during WWII. He forms a connection with the poet Andr%C3%A9 Breton and eventually presents him with three strange poems of improbable power. Decades later in the 1980s, these mysteriously lethal poems have produced a macabre cult following among the Japanese, resulting in a secret Special Police force and mandatory monitoring of all photocopying equipment. Light on%E2%80%94though not devoid of%E2%80%94incident, but deeply rich in atmosphere and idea, Kawamata's first novel to be translated into English was a bestseller in its native Japan upon its publication in 1984. It deftly establishes the power of the central poems by showing their effects on the emotions, minds, bodies, and very consciousnesses of their readers; and proceeds to build living characters, central and minor, for their dangerous potential to impact. If an unexpected revelation late in the game somewhat deflates the tension of the mysteries built throughout the novel, it is to Kawamata's credit that so much suspense exists in the first place, and that the ride thus far is so gripping. (Mar.)