A man follows another man’s trail of lies in a compelling psychological story about the search for identity, by Japan’s award-winning literary sensation Keiichiro Hirano in his first novel to be translated into English.
Akira Kido is a divorce attorney whose own marriage is in danger of being destroyed by an emotional disconnect. With a midlife crisis looming, Kido’s life is upended by the reemergence of a former client, Rié Takemoto. She wants Kido to investigate a dead man—her recently deceased husband, Daisuké. Upon his death, she discovered that he’d been living a lie. His name, his past, his entire identity belonged to someone else, a total stranger. The investigation draws Kido into two intriguing mysteries: finding out who Rié’s husband really was and discovering more about the man he pretended to be. Soon, with each new revelation, Kido will come to share the obsession with—and the lure of—erasing one life to create a new one.
In A Man, winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Prize for Literature, Keiichiro Hirano explores the search for identity, the ambiguity of memory, the legacies with which we live and die, and the reconciliation of who you hoped to be with who you’ve actually become.
From the EditorIn Japan, Keiichiro Hirano is not only a well-known literary writer, but he’s also something of a celebrity philosopher, due in part to a TED talk he did on self-love but also because of the deeply psychological themes he explores in his novels.
In A Man, Keiichiro grapples with the life reckoning that occurs in middle age. It’s a kind of psychological detective story about a lawyer’s obsessive investigation into the true identity of a dead man. The lawyer realizes that the dead man switched identities before becoming a happily married family man, beloved by his wife, children, and community—none of whom knew who he really was—and he becomes determined to provide the man’s widow with insight about who her husband was and why he chose to lie about his past. He’s driven by the idea that the dead man’s wife won’t be able to mourn him and move on until this strange mystery is solved.
The book explores the fantasy of taking on a blank identity without the weight of a legacy or heritage from family, ethnicity, or past scandal in a quest for the ultimate individuality. And it poses the question of whether, ultimately, any of these things that are outside of our control but can define us actually reflect anything about who we really are.
Some of the pertinent preoccupations that run through the story - such as the trauma of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and the discrimination of Japanese with Korean ancestry - are specific to Japan, but we can all relate to the universal experience of reflecting on the person we have become and how it differs from the person we always thought we would be. Keiichiro’s detailed, meditative analysis of the psychology of his characters in their interactions with each other reads almost like a parable, and helps make A Man one of the most interesting and compellingly original books I’ve come across in some time. I’m delighted to share it with English-language readers.
“Hirano’s English-language debut, a shape-shifting psychological thriller…As back-alley gritty and entertaining as a Raymond Chandler novel, the book asks what it means to be ‘you,’ and suggests that the answer means nothing at all. Hirano’s stylish, suspenseful noir should earn him a stateside audience.” - Publishers Weekly
“Keiichiro Hirano’s A Man has all the trappings of a gripping detective story: a bereaved wife, a dead man whose name belongs to someone else, mysterious coded letters, a lawyer intent on uncovering the truth. Together with a willfully understated title, however, these features belie a deeply thoughtful novel whose mystery premise gives way to an examination of the most profound questions of identity and artistic creation. In a work so rooted in Japanese cultural history, the questions posed by the author become distinctly literary, moving ultimately to address the very practice of novel-writing.” - Arts Desk
“What sort of novel is A Man? Hirano dangles a number of possibilities before the reader, from existential thriller to full-on spy novel. That a novel that deals so thoroughly with the ambiguities of identity should have its own identity be in question is utterly fitting. Did I mention it’s also a gripping read?” - Words Without Borders
“As an added bonus to the sympathetic characters and a well-constructed narrative is the detailed exploration of the complexities of the Japanese family registration system that made deception possible…Particularly appealing is author Keiichiro Hirano’s compelling portrayal of Kido…A Man may not end on a happy note, but the reader can take satisfaction in seeing Kido accomplish his mission. The puzzle is unravelled and his client and her children obtain closure. Mostly, though, it’s Kido’s many admirable qualities that shine through and carry the story.” - Japan Times
“Hirano has continued to grapple with new themes ever since his debut. In this work, he has arrived at the primal question of what validates human existence.” - Yoko Ogawa, author of The Memory Police
“A riveting examination of desire and identity, A Man patiently unpicks the nature of unfulfilled aspirations. Keiichiro Hirano has written a multilayered tale of human reinvention, at once eminently readable and deeply moving.” - Tash Aw, author of The Harmony Silk Factory and Five Star Billionaire
“There is no doubt that Keiichiro Hirano is an author with an extremely pioneering and modern spirit. His works have opened up a very imaginative space in analyzing and exploring the spiritual world of humanity.” - Sheng Keyi, author of Northern Girls and Death Fugue
About the Author
Keiichiro Hirano is an award-winning and bestselling novelist whose debut novel, The Eclipse, won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1998 when he was a twenty-three-year-old university student. A cultural envoy to Paris appointed by Japan’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs, he has given lectures throughout Europe. Widely read in France, China, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, and Egypt, Hirano is also the author of At the End of the Matinee, a runaway bestseller in Japan, among many other books. His short fiction has appeared in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature. A Man, winner of Japan’s Yomiuri Prize for Literature, is the first of Hirano’s novels to be translated into English.
About the Translator
Eli K. P. William is the author of the Jubilee Cycle, three novels set in a dystopian future Tokyo: Cash Crash Jubilee, The Naked World, and A Diamond Dream, and winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Prize for Literature. Originally from Toronto, Canada, he has lived in Japan for over a decade and has spent most of that time working as a Japanese translator. A Man is his first full novel translation to be published.