Soji Shimada, one of Japan’s most famed mystery novelists and author of “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders,” is blossoming in translation. In 2019, Pushkin Press published “Murder in the Crooked House,” and this August, Red Circle published “One Love Chigusa” (translated by David Warren), a psychological novella that probes deep into both the not-so-distant future and the human heart.
Set in the year 2091, Xie Hoyu is pieced back together with biomechanical prosthetics after a near-death motorcycle accident tears his body to bits. After his surgery, his world is no longer the same: He sees strange numbers and figures composing the bodies of men, and women appear as red-faced demons. Only one woman, Chigusa, appears normal to him, and Xie falls hopelessly in love.
The story traces Xie’s obsessive pursuit of the aloof yet timid beauty as he grapples with his new life as a reconstructed human being. Xie’s desperate ruminations resemble those of our own darkest moments, but in Xie’s case, something is off — a twist that reveals itself in the story’s final moments.
The romance is cringingly clumsy, intentionally so, and what at first appears to be the tired trope of a mysterious woman reveals itself as something else altogether. While Shimada ultimately uses well-trodden sci-fi motifs in the novella, he nonetheless asks compelling questions about what happens when technology begins to literally creep into our very human hearts.
The novel’s most inventive moments are in its rendering of the distorted, hellish world that Xie sees with his reconstructed eyes. This glimpse at a strange and eerie future makes the brief read worthwhile.