N IS FOR NORTH KOREA and J IS FOR JAPAN
Zainichi is the term for ethnic Koreans who have Japanese residence. Kazuki Kaneshiro is Zainichi, and so is the main protagonist of Go, Kaneshiro’s debut novel, Sugihara, a boy whose father defected from North Korea, and whose uncle remains there.
This novel, while labeled as YA, was a very serious and enlightening introduction to the xenophobia of the Japanese towards the Korean-Japanese. I’m not naive about nationalism and xenophobia and know that they blossom everywhere, but this was a very particular, uncompromising glimpse into the life of a minority that I hadn’t considered before. It also casts some light on the dynamics between the South and North Koreans,—a current subject.
Another reason to like this book: I don’t think I’ve ever read such a great portrait of male adolescence. Tenderness beneath a puffed out chest, something you rarely get, because the balance is usually skewed towards the one or the other, and the characters are either machos or nerds. Sugihara, however, is both smart, cultured, tortured, and violent, complicated and full of contradictions. I really connected with him as a protagonist.
There is something that really beguiles me to teenage boy narratives (I always wanted to be one growing up) and I would like to read more Asian ones, for sure.
Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro
Translated by Takami Nieda
Published by Amazon Crossing in 2018