- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: riverrun (8 Feb. 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1786484609
- ISBN-13: 978-1786484604
- Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 3.6 x 24 cm
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Seventeen: the new novel from the bestselling Japanese sensation Hardcover – 8 Feb 2018
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Seventeen is a brilliant novel on any level - it's a gripping page turner, while remaining moving and complex. It's a deeply satisfying read and it will be a while before I read anything as good. (William Ryan)
Yokoyama's successor to the mesmeric Six Four is every bit as ambitious and compelling. Reinventing the genre of the investigative thriller to create something rich and strange. (Barry Forshaw)
He's a master. (New York Times Book Review)
Yokoyama possesses that elusive trait of a first-rate novelist: the ability to grab readers' interest and never let go. (Washington Post)
Not just a police procedural but a guide book to Japan. (Guardian)
Very different, in tone, narrative, and style, from almost anything out there. (Observer)
An astringent, unforgiving picture of modern Japanese society. (Guardian)
A tense and fascinating box-set novel from the bestselling author of Six FourSee all Product description
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The book is a bit of a puzzle. As other reviewers have commented, referring to it as a thriller doesn’t really do the book justice. It’s not completely about a disaster. It’s not totally about the life of a journalist. If anything, it’s about humanity. But getting to grips with the full meaning of the book takes time – I’ve read the Japanese version many times, watched the two Japanese dramatizations numerous times, met and interviewed Hideo Yokoyama himself (and also some of those involved with the dramatizations), and have now read the English version, but the full implications of some of the words didn’t come to me straight away. That is not because there is a problem with the way the book is written. It’s just that it’s one of those books where you need time to let it get under your skin and you need to give time to thinking about what is written. Having said that, it is also an easy-page turner and it’s possible to enjoy the story for the sheer drama.
Although the Japanese title is based on the English word’s ‘Climber’s High’, the official translation has ended up as ‘Seventeen’. I assume this is a nod to the only other translation (‘Six Four’), as things stand, of one of Yokoyama’s books being numerical. The significance of the number seventeen is in the text and is further reinforced by Yokoyama’s own words in the introduction to the English version (which doesn’t appear in the Japanese version). Whilst not devoid of meaning, the English title does make it that much harder to find when searching for it – particularly if you make the mistake of looking for it as ‘17’ rather than ‘Seventeen’. The cover has also mirrored the style of the English version of ‘Six Four’, but I can’t help that feel a cover more in keeping the original Japanese version would have been preferable. But in the end, we should not judge a book by the cover – the contents are a masterpiece.
The translator has done an excellent job in faithfully keeping the feel of the original Japanese text. Japanese doesn’t always map well into English and so this can be a real challenge. That one of the key phrases in the original Japanese presents itself as a riddle and challenge for the protagonist to fully comprehend, coming up with something in English that can also remain a riddle and open to various interpretations must have been especially difficult. I particularly liked the translation of the ‘Sayama article’ and find it much more emotive than the one used in the English subtitles of the 2008 movie (and which also appear in the book Dealing with Disaster in Japan). It is a shame that publishers don’t allow translators to have a short chapter to discuss the challenges they had to deal with and a space to explain some of the translation choices they made.
I sincerely hope that we will see more translations of Yokoyama books in the years to come. He has a very engaging style of writing, with vivid descriptions, engaging dialogues and wonderfully crafted storylines. I hope too that we will see a translation one day of the other novel related to the JAL flight 123 crash, ‘Shizumanu Taiyō’. As for ‘Seventeen’, it is a fabulous read for, and should be a compulsory read for anyone who deals with journalism (either as a journalist or as a consumer) on a regular basis.
Instead, Seventeen is a competent and intriguing evocation of the inner workings of a local Japanese newspaper, the North Kanto Times, using the backdrop of an air disaster on the paper's doorstep to allow simmering resentments and rivalries to boil over. We are introduced to Kazumasa Yuuki, who is trying to make an ascent on Tsuitate rock face some seventeen years after making a promise to his colleague, Anzai, to climb the face with him. This leads Yuuki into a spiral of reminiscences of the events seventeen years ago, where the planned ascent of the rock was interrupted by the crash of a Japanese Airlines 747 into a nearby mountain, causing the deaths of 524 people.
Seventeen years ago, Yuuki had been a roving reporter with the North Kanto Times, assigned to lead the Air Crash desk. He was responsible for sending reporters out into the field, editing their stories, deciding the layout and, ultimately, which stories would make the cut and which would not. Yuuki was the most experienced reporter at the paper who had not gone into management, leaving him both respected and shunned.
The paper itself was constantly compromised in its effort to sustain circulation. It could not make political statements, could not ally more with one side than another (a problem in a province where the two main rivals in Japan's ruling political party held their bases), and shunned real news in favour of reporting local school sports fixtures, naming every player in an effort to sell the paper to kids' parents. But politics loomed large in the boardroom where the chairman and managing director were engaged in a bitter power struggle, sucking staff into one faction or the other.
So when the 747 went down in the paper's area - despite not being on a major flight path - the paper entered an existentialist crisis. The natural instinct of a journalist is to go after a scoop, but when the scoop comes, the fear is paralysing. Nobody knows how to play it, and the temptation is to retreat to the familiar comforts of routine basketball games and ceremonial openings of arts festivals. This is the context into which Yuuki is thrust - with all eyes on him. And at the same time, Yuuki has his own personal issues to resolve, not least of which is the sudden collapse of his climbing buddy Anzai from the circulation department...
Seventeen is a very complex novel with many characters and a network of relationships between them. It can be tricky to keep up with exactly who is who, particularly for anglophone readers who are not attuned to Japanese names. Hideo Yokoyama includes little summary lines when reintroducing a character to remind us of their role - this can feel irritating and repetitive, but without it I suspect the reader would be hopelessly lost. A further issue raised by the complexity is the uneasiness the reader will have in discerning what is actually the focus of the novel. Is it the plane crash? Is it the office politics? Is it Yuuki's personal situation? In truth it is all of these and none of them. It is really a slice of drama, a fly on the wall, from a newspaper office at a time of crisis. There is no particular beginning and no end. There is no great narrative arc, no moral, no winners and losers. It just is.
And then there's the present day, climbing Tsuitate. I can see that there was a need to have the odd period of relief from the intensity and claustrophobia of the North Kanto Times - and the open air and focus on small, technical details of the climb provided that. It also offered an opportunity for Yuuki to put some distance between himself and the events of the past. But this came at the expense of elevating one strand of the story - Yuuki's personal life - above the others in significance even though it was perhaps not the most prominent line at the time of the disaster.
Overall this is a complex, thoughtful and thought-provoking novel that has been somewhat cruelly mis-labelled to give a sure-fire guarantee of disappointing many of its readers.
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Didn't enjoy this one as much as I expected. May or may not read more by this author.