An American business analyst in Tokyo begins “the dangerous excavation of [his] past” and begins typing his memories that center around his visit to Nagasaki as an English teacher four years prior.
What starts seemingly as a trip down memory lane, recalling his relocation from America to Japan to be an English teacher in a “super-conglomerate English language school chain” and his initial experiences with beer-drinking peers, becomes an unraveling of painful memories of his first foster family, the life and death of his friend, Debra and an odyssey that crosses from the real to the surreal as he confronts the ghosts of Nagasaki –his and those from a Japanese novel.
Daniel Clausen’s writing is smooth and mesmerizing. There is a constant paradox that the protagonist is trying to reconcile in his journey. The protagonist escapes to a world filled with beauty and comfort: “my eyes overcome the poverty of my words. They fall out the window and deeper into the mountains.” This lyrical language that describes the mystique of the protagonist’s picturesque Japan and his dreamlike stream of consciousness is contrasted greatly with the narrative that focuses on the concise dialogue, cruder language and descriptions that reveal the other English teachers’ somewhat shallow and seedy experience of Japan’s nightlife and culture.
Clausen’s depiction of Japanese culture is compelling; effectively lacing the narrative with details about everything from street vending machines that dispense cans of coffee to effectively integrated details about Japanese pub life, language, and cultural tidbits.
The structure of the novel is based on several timelines that weave in and out of one another. Though some are clearer than others, it is at times difficult to follow the transitions, especially given the ambiguity about what is real and what are in his streams of consciousness.
THE GHOSTS OF NAGASAKI is an evocative and beautifully written journey about a man’s attempt to reconcile with his ghosts.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader