by Kazuki Kaneshiro
Translated by Takami Nieda
First published in Japanese in 2000
Genre: Literary fiction
Kazuki Kaneshiro is a famous novelist and screenplay writer. He is Zainichi Korean, meaning ethnically (North) Korean, born and raised in Japan. And that’s precisely the identity of Sugihara, the hero of Go, the first novel I read by this author. It actually received the prestigious Naoki Sanjugo Prize in 2000. This semiannual award recognizes “the best work of popular literature in any format by a new, rising, or (reasonably young) established author”.
I knew nothing about the issue of Zainichi Koreans, so this short coming of age novel was a great introduction to it.
The young Sugihara is basically stuck in a cultural no man’s land, and he has to fend for himself:
– In his family.
At first, he fails to understand the attraction of Hawaii on both his parents, and why his father wants to change his citizenship to South Korean.
For Sugihara, Hawaii is “the symbol of depraved capitalism” and at his Korean school, he “was taught that America was the enemy.
– At the Japanese high school he finally goes to.
Only by being “the reigning badass” can he thwart bullies and react to his teachers’ contempt.
– In his relationships with boys and girls his age.
Especially with Sakurai, a lone girl he meets at his ex-bully-now-friend’s party.
Will he be true enough to reveal to her his real ethnic identity? Will she accept that?
I liked this easy going, with good dialogues, coming of age novel, especially because of all the cultural references, and the identity quest in that context.
I enjoyed this passage on novels:
Riffling through the pages of the book, I said, “You’re always reading novels.” I didn’t believe in the power of the novel. A novel could entertain but couldn’t change anything. You open the book, you close it, and it’s over. Nothing more than a tool to relieve stress. Every time I said as much, Jeong-il would say something cryptic like, “A lone person devoted to reading novels has the power equal to a hundred people gathered at a meeting.” Then he’d continue, saying, “The world would be a better place with more people like that,” and smile good-naturedly.
There’s obviously criticism of the system, for instance at school and with the communist youth.
An element of mystery is even present, about who Sakurai is, and how she will react if she knows Sugihara is not Japanese.
What do you decide to do with who you are. Will you let yourself get stuck and face a wall, or will you GO and follow your own personal journey?
VERDICT: Interesting coming of age novel about Zainichi Korean, raising the question of personal identity.