Two recently read books – Hemingway and Adelstein

As far as literature is concerned – both fiction and non-fiction – there are an almost innumerable amount of white spots. That is, books that one as an academic or laymen ‘should have read’ but have not. For obvious reasons a realistic and not too extensive list of particular books and authors may function as a fruitful method of selection and structure for individuals.

Perhaps such a list should be comrised of both so called classics and various interesting contemporary works that have caught one’s individual attention. Two books that I have read recently belong to each of these categories: Ernest Hemingway’s modern classic The Sun Also Rises (1926) and Jake Adelstein’s crime report Tokyo Vice (2009). I will briefly summarize my opinion on these two.

I agree that Hemingway is a great writer and his widely praised first novel is no exception. His prose is often simple and laconic but at the same time both articulated and multilayered, since it contains messages and attitudes of the characters that are not explicitly but rather implicitly uttered.

As far as the story of the novel goes, it takes place mainly in Paris and Pamplona after the First World War. It examines some aspects of the lost generation of Americans (expats) and their sympthoms of decadence, such as a penchant for bull fight and general shallowness, hedonism and egoism. However, it does also contain a romantic/relationship-related conflict, between the main character Jake and Brett, and which is the focal point of the story, although not in the center of the plot throughout the entire text.

Overall, The Sun also rises, which ought to be read while wholly concentrated on the plot and its partly untold, less explicit messages, is a great novel. I will probably read it one more time – or at least particular sections of it – before I put the pocket away (probably for good). It is not the best work of Hemingway that I have dealt with but definitely worthwhile.

Since I have visited Japan – and during that time experienced quite vast areas and domains of Tokyo – and have been interested in contemporary Japanese culture and pop culture for several years, I definitely welcome Adelstein’s book on the country’s mafia, the Yakuza.

Obviously, the Jewish-American author knows a lot about Japan after been residing there since 1993 and worked as a sneaky journalist with a special interest in one of the world’s most influential mob groups, the Yamaguchi-gumi. As such, the book provides insightful descriptions, explanations and reflections on modern Japan and its particular policies and customs, such as the fact that a significant share of people in general lionize the mafia, and that the government cannot or will not go against it. The Yakuza is in some significant regards intimately linked to the Japanese government – the ties are obvious.

The problem with this book is that it is largely very self-centered. Adelstein appears more interested in to convey his own experiences rather than the broader and deeper patterns of how the Yakuza groups affect the Japanese society. At least in the first part, which comprises more than one hundred pages.

Moreover, it is not very well-written – perhaps because Adelstein is more trained in writing in Japanese than English at this point. However, this does not undermine many of its strengths, and the whole story that unfolds is indeed very enthralling. And it made me to some extent quite disgusted about Japan, especially Tokyo, even though I still love this city and the experiences that I have had while dwelling in the world’s largest metropolis. Everything that Tokyo offers does not indeed hinge on sex trafficking and prostitution.

If one is interested in contemporary Japan in general and the Yakuza in particular, Adelstein’s book may be worth reading. As an alternative, one can watch the movie adaptation which will have its premiere later this year, or perhaps Gaspar Noe’s unique film Enter the Void (2009).