Monday, September 28, 2009

Winter Sleep, by Kenzo Kitakata

(pb; 1996, 2004: translated by Mark Schilling)

From the back cover:

"Nakagi, an ex-con painter who has sequestered himself in a mountain cabin, is trying to elevate his art. The only thing breaking his solitude are the visits of two women: an art dealer who wants him to produce the sort of paintings that she would like to buy from him, and a young, aspiring, and soulful apprentice. When Nakagi welcomes an escaped felon into the emotionally fraught fold, and begins to teach him to paint as well, Winter Sleep awakens to. . . an incendiary climax."


Out of the three Kitakata novels I've read this month, this one is my favorite. It maintains the underlying edge-intensity of The Cage and Ashes, but there's an enveloping sense of peace throughout most of this work -- a (comparatively) mellow-ish, contagious mood that I got caught up in while reading this.

Technically, this is still a crime-genre work: two of the characters are murderers (quirky murderers, but murderers just the same), and, as a result of those characters, there are cops, as well.

But the heart of this novel lies in the often-lonely characters, and their individual and collective searches for understanding and peace:

Masatake Nakagi, the ex-con painter who narrates this years-long tale, is still restless, but he senses that his peace waits around a nearby corner.

Akiko Tsukada, an eighteen-year old fledgling painter and Nakagi's apprentice-artist, is passive aggressive: sometimes listless and/or accepting, other times a wild animal.

Koichi Oshita, a misfit murderer on the lam and another Nakagi apprentice-artist, is on a similar course as Nakagi and Tsukada, yet his journey -- familiar to Nakagi -- is formed by Oshita's equally-strange personality.

Natsue Kosugi, a proud, successful art agent whores herself to Nakagi just to get close to the artist's evolving, often incomplete paintings.

This, hands down, is one of the best books I've read this year. I wish I'd written this, and I plan to own it.

As excellent, diverse and off-kilter as Ashes and The Cage, Winter Sleep should especially appeal to artistic-minded readers -- painters, writers, etc. -- and crime buffs.

I can't read to wait other books by Kenzo Kitakata.

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