Keiichiro Hirano’s A Man follows the story of the deceased Taniguchi Daisuke – who was never Taniguchi Daisuke. His wife, Rie, discovers after his death that the man she married is not the man he claimed to be. She asks the help of an attorney, Kido Akira, in discovering who her husband actually was. Kido goes on an investigation to discover who Rie’s husband was, what happened to the real Taniguchi, and why a man would pretend to be another.
The depths of identity that this story plumbs is astounding. Kido’s grasp of understanding the man he refers to for some time only as X and the slow unfolding of the truth is crafted masterfully. Which is fortunate, as this story is dependent on how this mystery is written. This is somehow still a quiet novel. The revelations in the story are focused on what occurred in the past. The present events, still shifting and suggestive, feel like day to day moments. Rie struggling to understand her eldest child, old enough to understand the loss of his second father. Kido’s struggle to confront the failing in his own marriage and what it might be doing to his son.
Outside of the interpersonal relations, Keiichiro also examines the diversity of one’s personal view of their own identity versus how others might place that identity into a box. Kido is third generation Korean, an identity he does not hold closely due to being born and raised in Japan. Yet the outbursts of racism in the country and his changing belief of what part of his identity being a minority actually means to him. This is but one example of this, but others would spoil the book.
Normally I don’t care much about spoilers, because if knowing what happens at the end ruins a book, it wasn’t really written well enough to read. I wouldn’t say knowing what happens would ruin this either, but another facet of my enjoyment was the slow uncovering of X’s past, what it would mean to Kido, what it would mean to Rie and her two children.
The characters, both past and present, populate a Japan that feels so genuine. I say this as someone who has never been there, only consumed lots of different media from there, but I feel I can still say when a world feels real. Especially in a culture I know as being focused on the work. There are no long stretches of nothing, in this book. It all happens on the clock. Not only because this is part of Kido’s job, because the novel covers other cases he works on. Rie and “Daisuke” meet at her work. “Daisuke” dies at his work. Kido considers that he didn’t go anywhere on vacation because of troubles at home. Yet the subject of interest died young. Life is short, so how are you going to spend it? What is a lie when it helps you be the most honest of yourself?
There is no answer for this, but it is such a personal question, it would be surprising if any of the characters in the book could answer it, let alone express it for the reader. I do not believe that to be the point.
One complaint: for the life of me I don’t understand the accents put in the names, a purely translatory issue and one that does not detract from the book. But in no other translation of Japanese have I ever seen the names Daisuke or Rie written as Daisuké and Rié.
Unless you are adverse to mysteries or slow reveals, I highly recommend this book.