Eric Faye’s novel Nagasaki delves into the mindset of Shimura, a middle aged Japanese man, as he deals with an unexpected guest in his house. The story begins when Shimura notices that his food starts to go missing and Faye expertly explores the fear and paranoia that this discovery brings out in Shimura. Is he going mad? Is someone sneaking into his house after he leaves for work and what could they do to him as he is sleeping? Such paranoia leads Shimura to set up a camera in his kitchen.
What Shimura finds shakes him to his core and he immediately calls to have the person in his kitchen arrested. This point is when Faye’s novel begins to truly shine. Through news articles and police reports Shimura learns the history of the person invading his house.
The woman, who is never given a name, had been living in Shimura’s house with him for months. It is revealed that her life was destroyed when she lost her job and in desperation took up shelter in Shimura’s house until she was arrested. Here we are gripped by a man dealing with feeling satisfaction but realizing that said satisfaction stems from his ruining another’s life. He contemplates the woman’s newfound existence in jail knowing full well he put her there and ponders whether to not press any charges or plea for a lenient punishment for her. Shimura likens the woman to a lover that had abandoned him and wonders what would have happened if they had met under different circumstances. But sadly we can never know what would have happened.
Both Shimura and the woman stand in for the poor and the well-off. And yet Faye makes them more than the types they represent. He makes us care for these characters and want to know more about them by giving us reasons why they behave the way they did. This story in its essence is a commentary on how society responds to the less fortunate.
What Faye does brilliantly is make the homeless character in this story female. Faye depicts a woman whose struggles are completely ignored by society. She is pushed out of her home with no regard for how she will live after she loses her job and we follow her journey on the street as she becomes invisible to everyone around her. Our main character Shimura who for the majority of the book lives with the woman and yet she is invisible to him until she begins to take what she needs to survive. Then the punishment is swift and merciless. The woman is a metaphor for the larger homelessness problem in modern society. These people are ignored to the point of starvation and when they take what they need to survive the very society that put them in that position jails and fines them.
The woman is jailed and Shimura as mentioned before begins to feel guilt for putting her there. If the woman stands in for the homeless, then Shimura stands in for society. While he feels guilt and regrets his actions, he does nothing with those emotions. He isn’t compelled to go out and volunteer in a soup kitchen or donate money to feed and clothe the homeless or less fortunate. He doesn’t ever actually meet her face to face to speak with her. This is much like society that shakes its head at all the misfortune, calls it such a pity, and then continues doing what it has been doing for years.
Shimura moves away without a change in his attitude and the woman once released from jail will have a record and will most likely remain homeless. And here is the tragedy of Faye’s book, and society as a whole, if nothing changes then this vicious cycle will continue on destroying people’s lives.
Gallic Books, London, 2014