Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa
Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at 10:27AM
TChris in General Fiction, Hideo Furukawa, Japan

Published in Japan in 2003; published in translation by Pushkin Press on June 6, 2017

Slow Boat is a novella-length story of three loves, told by a man who recalls his past. Each love represents (at least in his mind) a failed attempt to leave Tokyo, either physically or metaphorically.

Slow Boat is almost existential in its depiction of a man who feels hopeless, powerless, and trapped in a heartless Tokyo. Three times, he has tried and failed to leave Tokyo. The first time he was in grade school, chasing after his girlfriend, whose parents were taking her away. The second time he was planning to join his new girlfriend at the airport. Both attempts ended violently. The third time he decided to leave metaphorically, leading to another new girlfriend and another disaster.

I’m not sure what to make of Slow Boat. It’s sort of a commentary on Japan over the course of the last few decades, but it’s also personal, a commentary on Japan as seen from the standpoint of a man (or boy) at various stages of his life, looking for a way out. Not a way out of Japan, necessarily, but a way out of the life for which he seems destined. Perhaps the narrator is simply coming to terms with his life, coming to accept that he is on a slow boat to nowhere. Or perhaps he is about to challenge fate. Part of the novel suggests that simply doing the best we can with what we have toward the people we love will have positive if unforseeable consequences, even if we do not stay with those people forever.

Fortunately, Hideo Furakawa includes an explanation of the book, which he calls a remix of Haruki Murakami’s story, “Slow Boat to China.” Familiarity with that story might help a reader appreciate Hideo Furakawa’s remix, but I haven’t read it so I can’t comment on that. I did appreciate the explanation of the novel’s surrealistic nature, which I found interesting but puzzling. Readers with a greater background in Japanese literature might get more out of Slow Boat than I did, but I liked it well enough to recommend it to readers who are up for a challenge.

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