I'll be there (I'll be there) ここにいるよ
『迷宮のプリズナー』 (JAM Project)
Messiah, embrace the wishes of all people
Towards the future we are all heading for
If this wish is granted, I want to let someone know
I'll be there (I'll be there) I am here
"Meikyuu no Prisoner" (JAM Project)
I read most of my fiction in Japanese nowadays, so I sometimes forget how extremely weird the sizes of English-language novels can turn out to be. Personally, I think the Japanese bunko size is perfect, but setting aside the problem of what size one likes best (some might think it's too small), at least it's an uniform standard. For some reason all the English-language books I buy all seem to have different sizes. Arranging bookcases would be so much more efficient if these books would have the same size instead of being all over the place! With Japanese bunko books, I can at least make efficient piles with no dead space. And yes, today's book was such a book with weird dimensions.
Yun Dong-ju, a young poet who seems to have a secret bond with the victim. But as Watanabe's investigation in the past few months of Sugiyama's life progresses, doubt about his actions in this war, in this prison begins to take over his mind in Lee Jun-Myung's The Investigation.
And because I went through all the trouble, I might as well mention it here: the book's original Korean title is Pyŏ-rŭl Sŭch'i-nŭn Baram ("The Wind Brushing Against the Stars"). I know most people probably don't care, but it really bothers me when I can't find the original (or a romanized) title of a translated book in the copyright pages, especially if the translation features a completely different title. Is it really that much trouble to include this kind of, in my opinion, rather important information? It's not even that obscure a title, because it simply refers to an important poem quoted in the book.
The Investigation is based on the real-life story of the Korean poet Yun Dong-ju, who had been arrested for being a thought criminal in 1943 in Kyoto (all Koreans were placed in Fukuoka Prison instead of local prisons). When he was arrested, he was in possession of an unpublished poem collection he had dubbed Sky, Wind, Star and Poem and several of his poems appear throughout the book. As a portrait of Yun Dong-Ju, how he experienced prison life and how his poems touched the lives of those who read them, I'd say The Investigation does a great job. It's a pretty intimate portrayal of different kinds of people all gathered in Fukuoka Prison for different reasons during the war (prisoners, guards, etc), and Yun's poems give life to the events happening there.
As a crime novel, The Investigation is less impressive. Mostly because it is based on the real-life story of Yun Dong-ju. As I was reading the book, I remembered that a friend had actually once told me about him. Okay, I didn't remember any of the details or names (I'm horrible with these kind of things), but what I remembered from what my friend told me, was enough to set me on the right trail. So if you happen to know a bit about Yun Dong-ju, this mystery novel doesn't really pose a mystery because an important hint pointing to the murderer of Sugiyama is pretty much common knowledge when discussing Yun Dong-ju. As if you're reading a detective novel where you need to find out which disciple betrayed Jesus: there's not much of a surprise left there. But even if you go into this novel without any prior knowledge: the mystery plot is not really the main dish of this book.
The parts about Sugiyama, and later Watanabe, working as a prison censor are quite thought-provoking. Censorship on thought is a very scary idea and seeing governments (during war) attempt to regulate thought through censorship of books, but also communcation between prisoners and their home, is horrifying, but also very interesting. Edogawa Rampo had some problems with war censorship too: the film Rampo portrayed that well. Mitani Kouki's radio play (also made into a movie and a theater play) Warai no Daigaku ("The University of Laughs") on the other hand presents the (heavy) material in an extremely heartwarming and comedic fashion: a censor initially rejects a comedy play by a theater troupe, but the efforts of the young scriptwriter who despite having to answer to ridiculous demands and harsh restrictions on expressions, tries to preserve, and even improve the comedy in his play, slowly touches the censor's heart. If you ever have the chance to see Warai no Daigaku, don't hesitate!
The Investigation is not a straightforward mystery novel, but has its high points as a book on Yun Dong-ju and the ways in which people try to obtain freedom within a prison. I'll be the first to admit that it's not precisely what I look for in a detective novel, and having prior knowledge about the poet kinda ruins the little mystery there is here, but I think The Investigation is still a novel that would leave quite the impression on any reader.
Original Korean title(s): 이정명 "별을 스치는 바람"