Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa

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“What if someone got their hands on my dreams? Just thinking about it sent shivers down my spine. It’d be like someone messing with your corpse.”

The author wrote this as an homage to Haruki Murakami, and is written in the same ‘magical realsim, dreamlike manner. Murakami is a master with this genre, and it’s hard to write as beautifully as he does. Furukawa does a decent job with this strange story. about three girlfriends who all seem to slip through his fingers like sand… or… time.  He tells us right away I’ve never made it out of Tokyo. But why? Why doesn’t he get out? Is it something having to do with the whims of fate? Is it self-sabotage? Are his dreams to blame? The first girlfriend happens in his early youth. In fifth grade, after Golden Week he stops going to school (this seems unbelievable to me, Japanese parents are pretty serious about their children’s schooling, at least when I lived in Japan) the trigger, he tells us, was Children’s Day.  If you wonder at the flags of Koi (carp) flapping “satsuki-nobori” in the breeze, it’s a day that celebrates children, their personalities, and their happiness.  To think a day celebrating children’s happiness can trigger this period in his young life lends a strange feeling to the tale. He is  suddenly consumed with the reality of death, one day he will die.  This ties into his dream diary, sleep being a nightly death in and of itself, but sleep  always finds him. The first girl he falls for when he is sent away to a special school, a place where children live together, one for those that can’t go (or won’t) to regular school. She is his first love, and a strange alien one.  This is the part of the story I loved, she is a unique girl, the best kind- a hyper-talker. “Within a couple of days, her mouth had totally devastated our peace and quiet (if we ever had such a thing). She rattled everyone’s cage.”  She is a new dream for him to focus on, the giver of his first kiss and before he knows it, fate steps in and the first girlfriend is taken away. She won’t be the last. Fast forward to the future and a woman who wants him to leave for Okinawa for her, to CHOOSE to be with her is a dead end when “Synchronized Attacks” happen that make it impossible for him to make his flight. What is stranger, his waking life or his coded dreams? Why is he unable to leave? Just when he is ready to take a plunge, to be the captain of his fate it seems Tokyo will not let him go! The third woman, “Knife Girl” has dreams of her own to follow too and just like the girl before her, these dreams aren’t for life in Tokyo. Things that happen to prevent him from leaving are a brand of outrageous bad luck, or are they? The Slow Boat takes on real meaning for our seemingly ill fated friend, but maybe the way out isn’t always a lover. It’s a very slow leaving.

It’s a strange tale, and I wonder how different it would be in the original language. I almost wish the entire story could have been about girlfriend one, I think that’s a novel I’d devour. The ending was fitting, and there were odd moments. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it threw me off the boat. I liked it, and there is something endearing about Furukawa’s admiration of Murakami. Maybe not for everyone, but just the right taste of odd for others.

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Pushkin Press

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