So, so, so many books have exactly the same plots, just with different characters. There are brave, heroic men to smite bad guys; there are brainy women, doctors who use their brains to solve crimes. There are usually multiple killings, a little romance for spice, and a red herring for omega-3 fish oils.
Okay. That last line was silly, but so are so many of what I call “supermarket novels,” because they share an aisle, usually with chips and dip, and are about as nutritious literarily.
Daniel Clausen’s 2012 novel, “The Ghosts of Nagasaki,” avoids every one of those cliches.
In “The Ghosts of Nagasaki,” Clausen evokes authors like Milan Kundera, who weave together seemingly dissonant notes until they meld into the perfect chord.
In “Nagasaki,” the unnamed narrator starts out in his Tokyo apartment. Something drives him to begin writing, and he’s unable to stop. Rather than narrate the story in a straight line—as most authors do—Clausen tells his tale the way our memories work: we flash between present and past, and between different eras of our past, different events.
I was exchanging emails with an ex-girlfriend tonight. I wasn’t thinking, “Well, I met her in 2009. Our first date was…” I told her how I’m doing, and she updated me, but while we were talking tonight, I was remembering when we made-out in the rain in an Olive Garden parking lot. She might have been thinking about how angry she got when I started dating a coworker after we broke up.
TMI, I know, but the point is that neither of us remembers our relationship the same way, or in the same order, or with the same colors and textures.
“Nagasaki” takes that a light year forward. The author deftly guides us through various times and spaces, some on either side of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. We move through a four year period, then up to a lifetime later.
“Nagasaki” swirls, like a beautiful mist, a novel whose steps are impossible to predict or anticipate. All we can do is follow the author, as he leads us through these intersecting, cherry blossom-strewn, beautifully written worlds.
This novel is not for every reader. If you’re used to banal, factory-created pulp paperbacks, you probably won’t get this at all. For fans of excellent literary fiction, “The Spirits of Nagasaki” will leave your book-lover’s heart enchanted.
Most Highly Recommended
(I received a review copy of this book from the publisher)