Characters who re-live their mistakes, their cruelties, and their sexual indiscretions populate Yasutaka Tsutsui’s hell, a netherworld built in ever-decreasing circles of guilt, memory, and desire. If, as Jean-Paul Sartre claims, “Hell is other people,” then it is the reflection of one’s self in the eyes of other people.

The novel opens during World War II, a memory replayed, in which three ragged and smelly boys — Nobutero, Yuzo and Takeshi — play on a schoolyard platform. As they roughhouse, Takeshi falls and injures himself; the two other boys jump down and pull him along the floor, not noticing his broken leg. From this moment on, Takeshi is disabled, and the friends slowly lose contact with one another. “Hell” begins this way. Or does it? Details of the accident are obscured; memory plays tricks on the mind. All three boys are now in hell — whether it be one of their own making, of the novel, or the hell of senility.

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