Interview with Fuminori Nakamura
Fuminori Nakamura is a 35-years-old Japanese novel writer who has won several awards such as the Akutagawa Prize, and the Kenzaburō Ōe Prize. Not only in Japan but also in currently 9 countries in America, Europe, and Asia, his works are translated and reached many readers. We interviewed him on himself as a novel writer and his latest work, “The Thief” which has chosen as ‘The Best Novels of March 2012’ by Amazon.com, and as ‘The Best Novels of 2012’ by The Wall Street Journal, and also nominated to ‘The 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.’
– What did you feel when your latest work, “The Thief” was nominated to such a prize in the U.S.?
I felt extremely honored. In the first place, it is difficult for Japanese novels to be translated into English, so I was very happy that my work was translated. Later on, “The Thief” was awarded by Amazon.com, and The Wall Street Journals, which had already made me stunned. Then even it was nominated to ‘The 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.’ Anyways, I was very glad about that.
– What made you write “The Thief”?
In the beginning, I wanted to write about unique feelings that thieves encounter during pickpocketing, such as a nervousness running through fingers, and a change in their body temperatures. And also I was interested in writing about an idea: what if someone else controls one’s destiny and fate. It seems impossible for someone to fully control a man’s destiny, but it could be possible to certain degree. I felt that it would be terrifying. “The Thief” was born though these two ideas.
For the techniques of pickpocketing, I actually tried them out not only reading some books about them. I took a train with my friend and practiced pickpocketing his wallet of him. Though this practice, I could experience a unique moment and nervousness of pickpocketing. In order to make it without being noticed by anyone else, I began to consider the others and the world as looks. When a thief actually robs someone his hands are not exposed to eyes of people surrounding him, but somehow he feels like he is being watched by ‘something’ from above right his overhead. This ‘something’ is a ‘tower’ in the story; it might be a God-like existence. I even don’t know what that really is. I described that as a ‘tower’ which stands above the reach of mankind, because I believe that there might be something watching over people’s destinies.
– Could you explain more details about a ‘tower’?
In my story, there is a character being named Kizaki, who represents the ‘evil’ in Tokyo. He has a ‘notebook of destinies’ in his mind, and writes down someone else’s destiny in advance: trying to control destinies of people. In this time a destiny is decided by a power of mankind, but what is exactly a ‘density’? Is it whether Kizaki controls a thief or whether it was already set that this whole thing will happen? I thought that it would be interesting to think about those questions. However, the world would be too hard to live if all the destinies were already set. That’s why I made a last scene like that, with a hope that there should be free will of humans.
– In the epilogue of the book, you mentioned that main characters were other selves of yours and you “sympathize[d yourself] with an antisocial existence.” Please let us know more about this.
If there are minority and majority, I would like to stand by minority. Of course pickpocketing is a crime so it’s a bad thing to do, but it is true that those (thieves) are the one who feel uncomfortable living in this world. This is the point where I sympathize myself with them. And also I think that I myself am a member of minority.
– Is such a feeling related to the fact that you raise the names of Osamu Dazai and Koubou Abe as your roots of being a novel writer?
Because I’ve not been a delightful person from old days to now, I was always looking for something to save me. In the end, what saved me were not friends nor schools but words from literature. Osamu Dazai, Koubou Abe, overseas writers such as Dostojewski, and Camus, and American writers such as Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Truman Capote and so on. Anyway I’ve been saved by words of so many novel writers. This encourages me to keep writing novels even today.
– In today’s information world with so many entertainments, what do you think about a role of books?
I believe that there is a precondition: novel writers must write words which people can never encounter though other media, such as the Internet. In short, novels should be differentiated from other media. Therefore, even though we are in such a flood of information, novels should be unique in terms of their special words. We novel writers have written such words and we should keep doing so in the future, which makes literature continues to be peculiar. This of course needs efforts of writers.
– Is there any special attention to an English version in terms of nuance and expressions from the Japanese original version?
I had a huge amount of email conversations with two translators. That was so hard. Sometimes they had arguments between them, came to me, and asked me “which one is right?” The other time we talked about subtle differences in nuance between Japanese and English. We had so many arguments like that. I think that they translated very well and accurately since I heard from many people praising an English version. I myself love translated literature and I’ve read many of them, so I’m glad that my work became one of them.
I heard from some American readers that they’ve never read this kind of novels before: they said it was literature but also a crime novel.
– What do you think of Japanese writers’ advantages in this globalized world?
It’s a hard question to answer, but I would say those are our traditions. In Japan we have amazing writers from old days, and also we are under a good influence of them by reading their works, which brings Japanese writers positive outcomes. We have Japanese traditions in literature such as different types of expressions and methodology of writing novels. I also pay attention to inheriting those traditions and, at the same time, renewing them.
– Do you have any message to the younger generation who dreams about being a writer?
Actually I’m currently a member of the selection committee of the Shincho Shinjin Prize. From this experience, I think they better read more books. It seems like the number of people has increased who don’t read books but want to be a writer. For writers, ‘want to read and write’ comes first than ‘want to be.’ I also read books not because I wanted to be a writer but because I loved reading. In order to make a good foundation of a writer, they should read different kinds of books, not just Japanese ones but also books from all over the world.
– What is your next theme to write?
My ultimate goal is writing about humans. Let’s say mankind extinct and some aliens come to the earth. They find a book and read it, then understand what humans are really like. I would like to write such a book or to express it through my entire career as a writer.
I would love to keep writing novels which I can say they are good. In June, my 2nd book in the U.S., which is titled “EVIL AND THE MASK,” will be published. This story is about a man who watches over a woman and wishes her happiness from the distance while changing his face and social status. It also includes many other elements such as terrorism, war industries, murder cases, and so on, but there has been always a small romance behind them. Now I’m also writing another novel, so I’m planning with a publisher in New York, to make it the 3rd one in the U.S.
A novel writer who was born in Tokai, Aichi in 1977. After he graduated from the Fukushima University, he won the 26th Noma Literature Prize with “Shako” in 2004, and the 133rd Akutagawa Prize with “Tsuchinonaka no Kodomo” in 2005. His 8th work, “The Thief” won the 4th Kenzaburō Ōe Prize in 2010 and came to the U.S. This book has been chosen as ‘The Best Novels of March 2012’ by Amazon.com, as ‘The Best Novels of 2012’ by The Wall Street Journal. This year, “The Thief” has also nominated to ‘The 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes’ as one of 5 Mystery/Thriller nominates. Not only in Japan, his works are translated and reached many readers currently in 9 countries: Taiwan, South Korea, China, the U.S, the U.K, France, Spain, and soon in Turkey and Thailand. His 2nd novel in the U.S, “EVIL AND THE MASK” is already ready to be on sale in June. He will keep attracting more and more readers all over the world.