If you read THE THIEF by Fuminori Nakamura, published last year in the United States, you might have some preconceived notions about EVIL AND THE MASK, his second novel to be translated into English (very ably done, once again, by Satoko Izumo). This is a somewhat different book, not only in its subject matter but also in its scope and focus. It is a tale about revenge, misdirected anger, politics, and redemption of a sort. And it’s also a love story, a very unexpected one.
EVIL AND THE MASK is the story of Fumihiro Kuki, the youngest son of the “elderly” (60 years old and change) patriarch of a powerful family whose influence spreads invisibly and otherwise through Japanese society and its government from the highest to its lowest levels. At the age of 11, Fumihiro is summoned by his father and told that his birth continues the family tradition of a father, after his 60th birthday, siring a son to be unleashed as a “cancer” upon the earth. Fumihiro, he is told, is that selfsame cancer, who will be dedicated to causing misery and destruction upon the world through acts that will go against the best impulses of human nature. The instrument that will turn Fumihiro into that cancer is Kaori, Fumihiro’s adopted sister, of whom he is inordinately fond. It is promised that when Fumihiro turns 14, his father will do something to Kaori that will complete his transformation.
"Although the plot can be complex, it is a strong and worthy modern parable at its core, one that is worth contemplating and will give readers cause to eagerly await the English translations of Nakamura’s other books."
On the eve of that occasion, however, Fumihiro murders his father in order to save Kaori, who is now his lover. When the elder Kuki goes missing as a result, the family business is transferred to two of Fumihiro’s older siblings. Fumihiro subsequently goes his own way, and, in an effort to escape his path and the questions surrounding his father’s disappearance and apparent death, eventually undergoes plastic surgery and undertakes the identity of Koichi Shintani, a dead man who, while he was alive, seemingly meant imminent death for those around him. Fumihiro, now Koichi, finds that his new identity provides him with very little succor, given that a relentless police inspector continues to investigate him in connection with the mysterious death --- perhaps accidental or otherwise --- of one of the deceased Koichi’s former love interests.
Meanwhile, Fumihiro/Koichi takes steps to locate Kaori. He is aided in this endeavor and others by a private investigator who had been in the employ of his father and who discovers that Kaori is working as a nightclub bar girl, thus potential prey for a con man. Fumihiro/Koichi takes steps to protect her, even as an anarchist group responsible for the assassination of a number of government figures attempts to draw him into their web, while a figure from his past who knows his true identity is intent upon blackmailing him and using Kaori as a pawn as well. Fumihiro/Koichi finds himself buffeted by these different forces, yet refuses to give in to the destiny that his father had planned for him. His only true concern is for Kaori, who he is intent on protecting at all costs, even at the expense of losing his life and soul.
Nakamura seems impossible to pigeonhole. While the ending to THE THIEF was somewhat enigmatic, EVIL AND THE MASK has a surprise ending that is...well, I won’t give it away. Although the plot can be complex, it is a strong and worthy modern parable at its core, one that is worth contemplating and will give readers cause to eagerly await the English translations of Nakamura’s other books.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 11, 2013