The Ghosts of Nagasaki by Daniel Clausen

The Ghosts of Nagasaki by Daniel Clausen PaperbackKindle Edition

I admit it, I apostasized (the conventional novel).

Synopsis: One night a foreign business analyst in Tokyo sits down in his spacious high rise apartment and begins typing something. The words pour out and exhaust him. He soon realizes that the words appearing on his laptop are memories of his first days in Nagasaki four years ago. Nagasaki was a place full of spirits, a garrulous Welsh roommate, and a lingering mystery. Somehow he must finish the story of four years ago--a story that involves a young Japanese girl, the ghost of a dead Japanese writer, and a mysterious island. He must solve this mystery while maneuvering the hazards of middle management, a cruel Japanese samurai, and his own knowledge that if he doesn't solve this mystery soon his heart will transform into a ball of steel, crushing his soul forever. Though he wants to give up his writing, though he wants to let the past rest, within his compulsive writing lies the key to his salvation.

My two cents
This is one difficult book to review. I have been sitting on this letting my thoughts percolate because it isn't a conventional read, and so my review isn't going to be conventional either.

When I first saw the title, I thought it could be anything from historical fiction (hey, it's set in Japan), to scary mystery (Japanese ghosts = The Ring?). I didn't know what I was expecting, really, and when I posted Daniel Clausen's guest post which was rather funny, I got even more confused.

This is the story of an American expat, a business analyst, who works in Tokyo. One night, he just feels compelled to write. This is the story of his early days in Nagasaki. Of red shoes. Of Japanese ghosts. An island he has to return to. And here's where any sense to the story just falls apart ...


If I could venture a comparison, this has the surreal-ness of a Haruki Murakami but it is just a touch more hopeful. And yes, there is a cat in this one too. (Little surprise that Clausen is a Murakami fan.)

The storyline weaves in and out as streams of consciousness, with me constantly second guessing whether what was happening was in the past or present, or real or imagined. Everything about the story is loose, fluid, and ... confusing. I learned to accept the confusion and kind of coasted through the rest of the book. 

This is as much about the story as the feelings that it will evoke. Rather brazen in how intimate the emotions this book will evoke you, I went through the first half just a bundle of energy and with mixed emotions: Strangely hollow, empty, adrift, days filled with meaningless work, meaningless drinking ... Then confused as hell... Then a rather strange little bout of laughing and cracking up (between his roommate Mikey and the constant "I admit it, I apostasized!" (I pretty much looked like a madwoman reading this). ...Then ... BAM! Aha! Ok, I see where this is going! Or I think I know where he is going. I'm not quite sure what crazy little mind game Clausen was playing at!

What I really loved about this book is the way the writing just flowed, languid and poetic. I personally found the writing mesmerizing at times, and very soothing.

What struck me most is the imagery, where the real and the figurative sort of meld together (and all the while I kept internally debating and flip flopping on this). The imagery stays with you, similar to the girl in the red dress in the film Schindler's list. Here, it's a girl in red Converse shoes. Or of Mr. Sparkles, a Welsh (yes, a Welsh) dragon singing Cat Stevens. Or of a ball of steel weighing heavily where my heart should be. The ghosts are not creepy but they did talk back and I was never sure whether they were truly ghosts, memories of real people, or simply the character speaking to himself in his mind.

This is such a satisfying read. I think the trick to enjoying this book is to just embrace the confusion and the seeming randomness. I reveled in it and I have come to the conclusion that confusion is a  necessary part of making sense of things, kind of like Clausen's character who exorcises the "ghosts" of his life. There's probably some profound philosophical or psychological analysis to all this. To me, it simply lent to an air of introspection: what would it take for me not to have a ball of steel but a living, breathing thing of a heart?

Uh-oh. That cover has got to go. It's much too bland and generic. I hope a new cover would feature a little bit of red.

Verdict: If you're out for a straightforward story, this will annoy the hell out of you. But if you're ready for a mind-bending journey and some introspection, I suggest you try this one. You may just like it.


I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

The Ghosts of Nagasaki by Daniel Clausen Paperback | Kindle Edition

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall