The ordeal of a young Japanese artist framed for selling drugs in Indonesia is the subject of this melodramatic prizewinning novel by the author of Still Lives (1987).
The tale is narrated in alternating chapters by Tetsuro (“Tez”) Nishijima, an itinerant painter long estranged from his family, and by his younger sister Kaoru, a “coordinator-interpreter” who works for a Parisian documentary film company. The story charts Kaoru’s education in reality as she navigates the intricacies of legal procedure and cultural contrast in Bali (where Tez has been imprisoned), while detailing through flashbacks Tez’s travels and misadventures throughout Southeast Asia, particularly his contrasting relationships with an amorous Vietnamese woman and free-spirited Scandinavian culture vulture Inge, “a witch sent from Europe to lure me away from my path as an artist” by hooking him on heroin (he is in fact guilty of drug possession, though innocent of criminal facilitation). There’s almost a lot going on in this earnest novel, including the shedding of most of Kaoru’s illusions, a discursive piecemeal history of Japanese-Indonesian relations, a briefly suggested parallel between Tez’s “story” and a tale from the classical Indian epic Mahabharata, and a surfeit of climactic plot twists. But little of this is developed. Nor are the possibilities of the suggestive title (denoting a prizewinning painting of Tez’s for which Kaoru had posed) explored in any depth. Ikezawa dutifully records the physical symptoms and emotional fallout of heroin addiction, but Tez’s aesthetic sensibility is declared rather than rendered, and his reality as a character is undercut by Ikezawa’s stagy use of second-person narration in which Tez directly addresses himself, and overreliance on emotionally charged rhetorical questions (e.g., “Everything’s designed to lead you to heroin—why leave the embrace?”).
It all feels like a book Ikezawa felt obliged to write. Plodding and undistinguished.