Sorry for the sporadic posts this month. Work has been keeping me extra busy, and this review is past due for me to have it posted. My review of J.M. Lee's The Investigation first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. You're very likely to see this one on my end of the year favorites list! Hope you enjoy...
First line: "Life may not have a purpose."
A deeply touching tribute to the power of art marks Korean author J.M. Lee's first publication in the United States. The Investigation, inspired by a true story, centers on the narrator's probe into the murder of a fellow guard at Japan's Fukuoka Prison during World War II.
Sugiyama Dozen, a veteran of the Kwantung Army, patrols Ward Three with an iron fist--and a wooden club--instilling fear in the Korean prisoners housed there. He also serves as the censor. "Sugiyama considered this silent war in his office the most valuable of them all. Books and records marched forward like enemy soldiers, and within them he found the enemy that gnawed through our healthy empire like a swarm of moths."
When Sugiyama is found hanging naked with a steel stake through his heart, young guard Watanabe Yuichi is assigned the investigation as well as Sugiyama's censoring duties. Through a combination of these tasks, Watanabe uncovers a poet, a pianist, a young kite-flyer and a silent hero, each creating hope and beauty in a devastatingly hideous war.
With stunning language--enhanced by an insightful translation, painfully resonating characters and breath-catching suspense, Lee crafts a gripping, complex tale of literature's ability to transform and unite those it touches, even in the darkest of times. His story pays homage to Korean history, but his characters, their experiences and emotions are universal.
Sculpted from grotesque circumstances, The Investigation is a marvelous work of art. This is a book to savor from beginning to end.
The Investigation is available in hardcover from Pegasus Books (9781605988467).