Golden Slumbers|ゴールデンスランバー

What would you do if you know there’s no justice behind the guns that are pointed at you even though they’re police?

Aoyagi Masaharu was an ordinary delivery man in Sendai. When the newly elected prime minister was killed by a bomb, he became the scapegoat for no obvious reason. He struggled on to survive or escape with streets and public places watched by thousands of CCTV cameras and every phone conversation listened to. He was getting crushed under the foot of a giant whose face he couldn’t even see. Aoyagi cried silently, “If they don’t care about the truth, how can I prove myself innocent?” It agrees with my long-held doubts about history books: how many of them are actually true to exactly what happened?

To avoid spoiling the excellent story even more, let’s look at other aspects of the book.

The book starts with the assassination, police chase and subsequent arrest told from the perspective of a character watching police news conferences and media reports as they happen live on TV. It’s a riot of fast paced action, but then the narrative ends abruptly. Then the tone changes and the whole sequence of events are examined and analysed by an anonymous writer twenty years later. Thirdly, what actually happened is told from the suspect Aoyagi Masaharu’s perspective. Then the last part of the book tells of what happens three months after the event. It tells us the ending of the story. It’s sad, tragic and infuriating but ends with hope and love.

One typical Japanese feature is the use of characters to link and weave seemingly loose threads of story together. The books that use this method to the extreme are Hankyu Railway by Arikawa Hiro (see my review here) and Miracles of the Namiya General Store by Higashino Keigo. All characters come together at the end and build up to the climax of the story, just as rivers and streams wind across different lands and eventually meet and tumble into the sea.

As I was reading, I was more and more amazed at the author’s skill at hiding and revealing clues. Something insignificant and useless can become a dazzling sparkle of light later on. It’s like fireworks lighting up the dark sky above Aoyagi’s head as he runs for his life. It requires you to read and remember every word of the story.

In the first part, despite all the reports, interviews etc. pointing to Aoyagi as the murderer, the author uses the onlooker as an extra layer of commentary and structures the wording very subtly and cleverly to speak to the heart of the reader: Aoyagi is innocent! The whole thing is suspicious! So read on!

The person of Aoyagi is shaped with his thoughts, words and deeds in great detail such that you can’t help sympathising with him and consequently can’t help turning the pages in the hope that he would survive in less and less likely situations. While he was running, chased by policemen in a street, he felt sorry for a delivery man who got stuck in the traffic control caused by the bomb. He asked a driver to hand him to the police because otherwise the driver would lose his job. He turned back to rescue his friend knowing it was a trap. He shouted sorry out loud when he had to use violence to subdue an elderly policeman. He surrendered to stop the disruption and damage caused by the police and to save people’s lives.

Although it’s a tragedy, the narrative is full of heart-warming details and light-hearted humour. Especially the humour is a pleasant surprise. It comes through nicely in the Chinese translation. The narrative is straightforward and plain, but effective in tugging the reader’s heart strings. Here is one example of the brilliant writing of Aoyagi’s vivid experience as he surrenders walking into rings of flashlights and police with guns:

I probably would be hit by bullets before I could realise. The only thing Aoyagi can do is to keep checking if there’s any pain in his body. Haven’t been shot yet. Haven’t been shot yet. He keeps checking and keeps moving forward, trying to concentrate and not let himself pass out.

In the eyes of the on-lookers, three days of chaos is just three chapters of narrative. The event will be forgotten. People will go to work, go shopping just the same the next day as usual. But from Aoyagi’s perspective, his unjust suffering lasts 39 chapters. He isn’t a hero in a blockbuster movie. He’s an ordinary man, making decisions one by one, asking helplessly “What is happening? Why does this happen to me?”

Not one clue or one character is wasted. Not one sentence is unnecessary. All the dialogue, monologue and memory weave into a blanket that helps and protects Aoyagi. The ending is typically Japanese too. Very ordinary but very romantic and touching. I recommend it!

The story is by Japanese detective author Isaka Kotaro, whom I had not come across before this book. The book is named after Beatles’ song from Abbey Road album, Golden Slumbers:

Once there was a way

To get back home.

Once there was a way

To get back home.

Sleep, pretty darling,

Dot not cry

And I will sing a lullaby.

 

Golden slumbers,

Fill your eyes

Smiles await you when you rise

Sleep pretty darling

Do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby.

 

 

The feature photo (on top of this post) is from the film adaptation Golden Slumbers 2010, featuring one of my favourite Japanese actors Sakai Masato (right).

ゴールデンスランバー|Golden Slumbers

Aoyagi driving towards unavoidable road checks.

 

 

 

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