The Paradise Bird Tattoo (or, Attempted Double-Suicide)

Choukitsu Kurumatani, trans. from the Japanese by Kenneth J. Bryson. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-58243-703-3
The raw loneliness of the characters in Kurumatani's modern take on the pre-war Japanese watashi shosetsu, or confessional "I novel," reveals a new generation of disfranchised Japanese salarymen. When Ikushima left an advertising agency at 27 he "slid into both emotional and spiritual bankruptcy." His days are now spent living and working in a derelict apartment building carving animal organs into yakitori skewers. Though the young man is vaguely aware of his neighbors—middle-aged prostitutes; a surly tattoo artist and his beautiful Korean girlfriend, Aya-chan—Ikushima is too withdrawn to reach out. He fantasizes about Aya-chan and the tattoo he glimpses on her back, "a great bird with outspread wings." When she seduces him, his withdrawal is replaced by obsession. Finally evicted, he and Aya-chan flee with a vague notion of committing suicide at a waterfall. In the end, though, these two lost souls lack even the drive to end their lives, and Aya-chan's tattooed phoenix foreshadows future hope. Though the writing is at times overwrought to the point of absurdity, Kurumatani's (Salt Spoon) tight control creates an electrifying emotional intensity. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/21/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
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