Confessions – Kanae Minato
June 29, 2017 § 5 Comments
First published in the Japanese in 2008
Translated into the English by Stephen Snyder in 2014
A teacher (we don’t know her name yet) is speaking to her class on their last day of school. She mentions that the free milk they’ve been drinking all throughout the school year was a random study that the Ministry had been conducting to see if the additional calcium would do the students any good. Then, she announces that she will be retiring at the end of the month, meaning that after spring break, she will no longer be their teacher. She then goes on to ramble about teaching, about school protocols, and even tells us a little bit about her past, and how she ended up becoming a single mother to her 4-year-old daughter, Manami.
Then the shocker comes: her daughter is dead.
Because Manami’s death wasn’t an accident. She was murdered by some of the students in this very class.
She doesn’t say this, but as I’m reading, I can feel the class going silent around me, all of us hanging on her every word. But instead of telling us straight away who those students are, she decides to talk about the Juvenile Law instead, and how it protects minors from being persecuted. “Murderers go free, simply because they’re deemed too immature to understand what they have done,” is more or less what she thinks about the Juvenile Law. And because the students in her class, the people who murdered her daughter, are all only 13 years old, she doesn’t trust the justice system.
She tells us that she has taken matters into her own hands. Then, she actually tells us what she has done to the students responsible for her daughter’s death. She then promptly ends her confession session, dismissing the class and thus ending the first chapter.
The rest of the book is told through the eyes and voices of other characters embroiled in this murder mystery. And through each new voice, we get to hear a different take on what had actually happened before that led to the death of Manami, and also what happened after that shocking revelation on the last day of school. None of them are what they seem, and none of them know what someone else is really thinking. The motivations behind their actions, their thought processes as they make different decisions. It’s like being given the privilege of diving straight into their souls. But the more we know—about each of the character’s deepest and darkest thoughts—the less sure we are of anything in that world. It’s no longer a question of right and wrong. The entire world has shifted, and suddenly, you look up and realise it’s been painted every shade of grey.
This book is not so much a conventional mystery story, where a murder happens, and the story in its entirety is about finding out who the killer is, and the motives behind the killing. Instead, it’s more a mystery of the human mind, and what we are truly capable of. How dark can we actually become? And what does it take for us to turn into something we never saw coming? How strong are our convictions? And really, what is morality?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to just sit and read a book in less than 3 days. Despite the alternating voices, there wasn’t a time when I felt disengaged from the story. “Who is this voice now?” quickly became “What does he/she have to tell me?” And that was what made the book so powerful for me. There was no need to introduce who the new narrator was in each new chapter. It could be anyone, and yet it could only be that someone.
This was Minato’s first novel. Powerful stuff. She’s got a second novel that’s only just recently been translated into English, Penance.
I watched the film adapted from this book some time in 2011-2012, and was immediately intrigued. I searched for the English translation, which was when I found out that it had yet to be translated. I’m so glad that this work has finally found its way into the English-speaking world.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve actively participated in any reading challenge, so I’m glad to have finally made it to participate in Bellezza’s 11th edition of the Japanese Literature Challenge this year. Here’s to more Japanese literature works before year end.
I rewatched the film a few days ago. My thoughts on the film HERE.