Nakamura, Fuminori - 'The Thief' (translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates)
A short book about a seasoned pickpocket in Tokyo, this book won the 2009 Õe Prize, a prestigious Japanese literary award. The pickpocket's professional approach to abstracting wallets from the rich people that he specifically targets is revealed in the first chapter. Once the cash is removed, the wallets (fingerprints removed) are returned by posting into a mailbox, in the certain knowledge that the postman will retrieve them, pass them along to the police and then back to the owners. So, perhaps one has some sympathy for him, as he only wants enough cash to get by, its just that his method of obtaining it is rather unconventional.
The pickpocket is a likeable but lonely man. He lives alone, in a simple room, and seems to spend most of his time pickpocketing. But then gradually we start to learn more. That he was once part of a gang of three pickpockets, who worked as a team and that he once had a girlfriend. But subsequent events led to the splitting up of the gang, to the extent that he no longer knows where one of his old friends is, although he suspects the worst. Then he starts to become involved with a young boy and his mother, after he spots the boy shoplifting inexpertly in a supermarket with his mother's encouragement. In the end though, this attachment is used against him.
Partway through the book, the pickpocket is told a story of how a rich powerful man was able to completely manipulate the life of one of his servants, by predicting how he would react to each situation he was presented with. From this, he is meant to understand that he too has no control over what will happen. Despite this, the pickpocket himself is an eternal optimist, and is certainly smart enough to work out clever enough strategies to succeed at what he needs to do. While, this is a sad book, where there is no redemption for the pickpocket, it is a fascinating read, and nicely translated.
Read another review of THE THIEF.
Michelle Peckham, England
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