Silence Once Begun

Pantheon. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780307908483. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908490. F
Paris Review Plimpton Prize-winning novelist Ball's enigmatic book purports to be based in part on fact. Set in Japan during the 1970s, the story, narrated by journalist Jesse Ball, tells of Oda Sotatsu, who, disillusioned with life, signs a false confession based on a wager. He claims responsibility for the disappearance of more than a dozen elderly people. Oda is sent to jail but refuses to speak and is convicted and executed. The novel describes the events through a series of interviews with Oda's family; with Sato Kakuzo, the man who induced Oda to sign the confession; and with Oda's accomplice, a woman named Jito Joo. The effect of the confession on the local community is dramatic; Oda's family is shunned, his father beaten and refused medical treatment. It's not until the end of the novel that we come to understand the nature of the confession—and of the crime as well.
VERDICT This multifaceted narration of a seemingly inexplicable miscarriage of justice cloaked as a political statement creates a kind of Brechtian drama; the detached perspective is chilling, though strangely intriguing. [See Prepub Alert, 7/8/13.]
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