The Japanese novel has taken some interesting twists and turns in the post-bubble era, but quality has often been the price of experimentation.

Dream Messenger, by Masahiko Shimada, Translated by Philip Gabriel.
293 pages


Masahiko Shimada's novel "Dream Messenger," which focuses on a mother's search for her missing son, deserves attention for first-rate writing and a willingness to fuse different genres and cross cultural boundaries. In it, Shimada mixes reality and fantasy as it suits him.

The author has his characters act out minor dramas on the streets of Tokyo and New York, polar cities sitting on the eastern seaboards of distant continents. The air of his fiction is full of electrons, thunderheads of impending change massing behind the two cities as the characters take a closer look at self, sexuality and the karmic forces that will alter their futures.

Assuming a more literary, nuanced style that is absent from much contemporary Japanese literature in translation, "Dream Messenger" is an existential novel that manages to remain firmly grounded within the parameters of a compelling narrative.

Ultimately, Shimada's Tokyo is the more potent touchstone for change of the two cities. As its memory landscapes are lost, its cult of impermanence becomes a catalyst for psychic instability. In this "amnesiac city," as the author terms it, "Things that happened yesterday are already covered with shifting sand. And last month's events are completely hidden. The year before is twenty meters under, and things that happened five years ago are fossils."

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