A Freeman Award Winner for Young Adult Literature
For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.
As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer….
I am not Korean or Japanese. I am a rootless vagabond.
The entire essence of the story is summarised in this mini monologue by Sugihara, the protagonist of Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. I had a presumption that Go might be about the famous board game in Japan and Korea. But, this little word implied a vastness that engulfs all immigrants in the world. I would probably qualify into one of them as I’m quite far away from my ancestors’ original roots. At times, I feel like the topmost tendril of a climbing vine, distanced and alienated from its roots afar.
Go is about Sugihara, who is caught between the complexities of citizenships in both Koreas and eventually Japan. He is an ethnic Korean born and brought up in Japan. I didn’t know that this kind of people are called Zainichi Chosenjin in Japan. The Zainichi bear an interesting as well as tragic history. The Koreans were brought to Japan for forced labour during their invasion and occupation of the country that ended during the World War II. At present, about 80,000 ethnic Koreans are said to inhabit Japan and the term Zainichi is widely used as derogatory and discriminating.
In the book, Sugihara acquired Japanese citizenship and a Japanese name via his parents, but he is one of those bright young adults who refuse to be chained by the rules of immigration. He wants to be a global citizen some day, reigning the world by his own rules. Enrolled into a Korean school initially, he made a few friends who are as confused as himself. But his desire to spread his wings made him qualify into a Japanese high school where things seemed different. And then he met Sakurai, the girl who brought love into his dreary life. Surrounded by love and friends like Jeong-Il, will Sugihara overcome his immigrant woes?
I particularly liked the protagonist, Sugihara and his lovely dry sense of humour. It is quite distressing for most young adults to cope with complex problems like discrimination (related to immigration), bullying and dysfunctional families. Sugihara faces all these, along with differences with his father, a dash of Yakuza and a passing reference of Pachinko. I loved his yearning to learn, exchanging books with Jeong-Il, comparing and analysing fiction and non-fiction. It was an era of well-read young adults, before smartphones infringed the world. There’s a love story as well; many would say Go is a love story, but I’d like to disagree. Sugihara and Sakurai ensnare into a relationship that’s complex in its own paradigm. The perspective of an immigrant life overshadows their love and the story as well.
The book is short and like many readers, I’d have liked to read more about Sugihara and his life beyond school. Though I have no scope of knowing how the original novel in Japanese fared, I’d like to believe that Takami Nieda has done a pretty good job at translating the essence and pain of immigrants, us, all over the world. I am one of them and I’d probably prefer being a nomad immigrant than one who’d settle into any one foreign country.
My Rating: 4/5
About the author:
Kazuki Kaneshiro graduated from Keio University and made his literary debut with Revolution No. 3 in 1998, winning the Shosetsu Gendai Prize for New Writers. In 2000, Kaneshiro won the Naoki Prize for GO, which tackles issues of ethnicity and discrimination in Japanese society. The novel’s film adaptation went on to win every major award in Japan in 2002. Many of his works have been made into films or manga, and Kaneshiro has been adept at working synergistically across multiple formats and genres, writing the original concepts and scripts for the TV series SP and CRISIS.
Language: Japanese / English, Genre: Fiction/YA
Author(s): Kazuki Kaneshiro, Translated by : Takami Nieda
Publisher: Amazon Crossing, Year Published: March 2018
Binding: Kindle, Edition: First, Pages: 167
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