On Parole by Akira Yoshimura (1988, 254 pages, trans. from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, 1999)
This is the second work by Akira Yoshimura (1927 to 2006-Tokyo) that I have read. I read back in 2009 his One Man's Justice about the life in post World War II Japan of an Imperial Soldier who served time as a war criminal for executing an American POW after the Japanese had surrendered. Yoshimura wrote over 20 novels (sadly only three seem to have been translated) and was president of the Japanese writer's union.
On Parole is an extremely well done story of a man who spent 15 years in prison for murder. The story begins with his routine in prison and goes on to his parole. In every way the lead character seems the model of a rational prudent hardworking man. We are very confused as to why he wound up in prison until it is shockingly and vividly revealed to us. I learned a good bit about how the justice system works in contemporary Japan. We get an inside look at how prisons are run in Japan and we learn how people on parole are managed. I also learned a lot about the chicken business in Japan after the released prisoner got a job working at a chicken ranch. His biggest fear was that his coworkers would find out he was a released prisoner.
I thought the portrayal of the parolee, Kikutani was really brilliant. The scenes in the chicken and egg farm give us enough detail so we feel like we know what it was like to work there. I really felt like I was being given a good look at the life of a humble simple man whose life was destroyed in a few crazy moments of madness.
On Parole is a very good book, easy to follow and keeps us wondering what will happen next. It may seem a bit of a cold book but that is in part as the character of Kikutani seems cold on the surface. I recommend it to anyone interested in the Japanese justice system. I have one problem recommending this book to first time readers of Yoshimura. On Parole is good but his One Man's Justice is great, a true master work that should be read by anyone interested in the post WWII Japanese novel. I would suggest that one new to the Japanese novel first read One Man's Justice, then read at least 10 other Japanese novelists then go back to On Parole. Some may find the subject matter of the book does not interest them all that much and at first I sort of felt that way but as the book went on I overcame my initial disinterest and I am very glad I did. One of the signs of the great skill of Yoshimura is that he is able to make us feel in sympathy with people we have every reason to greatly dislike and have contempt for.
The translator, Stephen Snyder, is a professor at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont and is one of the highest regarded translators of the Japanese novel into English.
I am reading this book in association with the Japanese Literature 4 Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza. I urge anyone who has the time to join her challenge, all you have to do is read just one book.