Death Sentences PDF/EPUB ¼ Paperback

Japan 1980s A special police squad is tracking down one of the “afflicted” to recover the “stuff” Although the operation seems like a drug bust the “stuff” is actually some kind of text Death Sentences—a work of science fiction that shares its conceit with the major motion picture The Ring—tells the story of a mysterious surrealist poem penned in the 1940s which through low tech circulation across time kills its readers including Arshile Gorky and Antonin Artaud before sparking a wave of suicides after its publication in 1980s Japan Mixing elements of Japanese hard boiled detective story horror and science fiction the novel ranges across time and space from the Left Bank of Paris to the planet MarsParis 1948 André Breton anxiously awaits a young poet Who May He recalls their earlier encounter in New York City and the mysterious effects of reading Who May’s poem “Other World” Upon meeting Who May gives Breton another poem “Mirror” an even unsettling work Breton shares it with his fellow surrealists Before Breton can discuss the poem with him Who May vanishes Who May contacts Breton about a third poem “The Gold of Time” and then slips into a coma and dies or enters another dimension Copies of the poem are mailed to all of Who May’s friends—Breton Gorky Paul Éluard Marcel Duchamp and other famous surrealists and dadaists Thus begins the “magic poem plague” Death Sentences is the first novel by the popular and critically acclaimed science fiction author Kawamata Chiaki to be published in English Released in Japan in 1984 as Genshi gari Hunting the magic poems Death Sentences was a best seller and won the Japan Science Fiction Grand Prize With echoes of such classic sci fi works as George Orwell’s 1984 Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Philip K Dick’s Martian Time Slip Death Sentences is a fascinating mind bender with a style all its own


10 thoughts on “Death Sentences

  1. says:

    Warning minor plot spoilers also some possibly trigger y stuff about sex and violenceThe use of the word masterpiece to describe this book is to stretch the meaning so thin that you could read the classifieds through itThis translation of Kawamata's sixteenth novel which won at least one major Japanese genre prize is out of the U of Minnesota so it comes larded with critical hoo haw on both sides foreword and afterword In between is a novel that reads sort of like thisThe woman was reading the novelShe had seen the book listed in a university press catalog and ordered it specially in advance of its general publication dateIt was supposed to be a fascinating mix of Japanese SF mystery and literary genres which she found intriguingBut the novel itself was not enjoyable to read It made every sentence or two into a paragraph The critics seemed to consider this explosive and daring or somethingThe woman found herself skimmingNo kidding every sentence is pretty much a paragraph and the sentences are oddly generic and repetitive Apparently this is a stylistic tic of Japanese popular novels designed to give the reader nothing to dwell on in any particular sentence thereby propelling her onward into the story To which I say Jesus Christ that's a bad ideaThe book was published in 1984 and I don't know the order of precedence but the underlying concept here a surrealist poem that intoxicates and poisons people killing them or possibly transporting them to another dimension is very Ringu If Kawamata came first good for him That idea is about the only interesting thing about this book which declines to sully its hands with things like character development or ennobling languageThis is also a book with major gender trouble a fact that I didn't see addressed in its critical apparatus It looks to me as though everyone involved with bringing this book to market has a y chromosome which might explain why nobody calls Kawamata on his bullshit In a relatively short book that strips the narrative down to the barest essentials we nonetheless get the following scenes A detective strips a woman and finger rapes her to extract a hidden item from her vagina then shoots her in the head Another detective tells a woman he's accosted that he'll let her go if she has sex with him She has sex with him dies anyway We get an explicit description of her genitalia before she dies The only female employee of a publishing company is repeatedly ogled by every man who meets her complimented on her good looks etc She presents herself as the secretary of the boss for a business meeting although she's an editor She ends up marrying the editor in chief and quitting her own work for no apparent reason Not sure why she's in the book actually There are pretty much no other women in the book There are basically no women with significant rolesSo Maybe 1980s Japan wasn't the most egalitarian place but this is a book translated and published in 2012 Seems to me like this is something worth mentioning even if just to say Look we think this is a great book but we know it has some weaknesses try to take it with a grain of salt Anyway if you're super duper into the Surrealist movement enjoy bare bones prose and nonexistent characterization read mainly for concepts and can put up with a lot of what the translators and editors consider challenging bold stylistic moves and what I consider dropped plot threads vague ideas tense shifts poorly constructed scenes and so on and if you like a healthy dose of lady bashing in your noirthis one's for you


  2. says:

    Quick light read Some style lost in translation but the short sentences propel you forward very quickly as meant to be Book is sort of skipping genres French art and literary history drug heist a possible war on humanity all in different settings across space time So in that sense a lot of typical Japanese creation and viewpoint involved Was a bit repetitive in the middle and then ending was abrupt but was fitting and nice the short type where you either have to 'get it' immediately or otherwise think about after reading Other reviewers commented on the objectification of women but it wasn't that central to the story so I didn't feel overly affected it is after all a Japanese novel


  3. says:

    Pay no attention to the Bechdel Test It's meaningless drivel This is a good book if flawed Those flaws have nothing to do with gender issues however Reform School Girls and She Devils of the SS both pass that test Are you going to try and tell me that those films don't objectify women? In fact it's often harmful If a book is dominated by males and a female character makes her mark it fails the test If a woman is an introvert the book fails the test Under the test a woman's relationship concerns are dismissed and any woman who can't communicate also fails the test The Bechdel test is just a bunch of gibberish And none of this criticism seems to understand the idea of conflict and that the world is full of it If a novel doesn't conform to your ideas of what the world should be doesn't mean that it should be dismissed I recall when American Psycho was released how there were protests then about that book Clearly those protesters hadn't even read it because it was a work of satire But the bigger issue is that the text is a place for us to work out our problems in society If those are Bowdlerized and ERASED then there is no hope for us We don't want to look at ourselves


  4. says:

    I found the first third of this book utterly fascinating but the book read a little like the camera was on the wrong character for a lot of itI found the idea solid the execution felt curious in points but overall it was a pretty compelling story With that said I don't feel the ending gave a whole lot of satisfaction I think it's important that regardless of the subject matter this book is literary than it is science fiction or slipstream and the ending reflects thatI would definitely recommend this book to someone else with a caveat that the ending is positively bizarre


  5. says:

    I wish I could have read this in the original Japanese because I feel like something got lost in translation Concept driving without a whole lot of exposition character development imagery or anything else really


  6. says:

    An amazing concept that was poorly executed There's a strange sprinkling of misogyny and detailed sexual assaults that have no bearing on the actual plot


  7. says:

    DobadedWas expecting this one to be a bit expansive There's less science fiction and detective story and a bit much too tine spent on the Andre Bretonsurrealists for my taste


  8. says:

    A beautiful concept but an underwhelming ending


  9. says:

    45 STARS


  10. says:

    Several things interested me about Kawamata’s Death Sentences One thing that stood out to me is that the narrative is highly concept driven without a great amount of characterization imagery or even to a certain extent plot For example I was intrigued by the idea of a text which when read poisons or transforms it’s reader irreversibly and how that concept seen through the lens of mid 20th century surrealist sensibilities alluded to the whole 20th century as a sort of unfinished project in transition between representing the present and the past To me this idea spoke to the whole tradition and practice of translation how a work in translation is never completely finishedit is both a relic of the past and at the same time continually renewing itself However I found certain aspects of this text to be problematic Mainly I was somewhat disturbed by the author’s portrayal of his female figures There are very few women in the book while there are so many men it’s hard to keep track of them The only women are the woman in the opening scene who completely lacking any real character traits is reduced to a rape victim Keiko who is portrayed as constantly attracting the gaze of all the men around her and diminishing her own status by calling herself a secretary when really she’s an editor before she pretty much disappears from the plot once she’s married the girlfriend of the young translator who gets maybe three lines in which she just appears as a naïve young girl and the mother of the dead translator None of these women have significant roles in the text I know the book was written in the 1980s in Japan which perhaps wasn’t the most egalitarian place on earth and only recently translated but I imagine this book will receive a certain amount of criticism based on its gendered quality and bizarre negative unfulfilling portrayal of its female characters