on Dec. 27, 2013 :
This is a peculiar novel that I found strangely compelling. It tells the story of a fortunate young American, Ritchie Ufuo, living the foreigner life in Tokyo and doing well for himself. The narrative loosely traces the tribulations of a bunch of eccentric expats. Soren is a ridiculously rich American who feels vaguely like a douchebag version of the Great Gatsby. Shan is a poor Chinese guy on some kind of scholarship who falls in with Dominique, the 19-year-old daughter of a powerful American figure with a lot of connections. Dominique claims Shan threatened her with a knife and the strange legal battle that ensues flows through the entire novel.
I didn't like any of the characters in this book, but that doesn't mean I didn't like reading about them. I liked the atmosphere and the unusual intensity of the social environments. Their world feels alien to me. Some people however might find these characters too repulsive to endure. The elitism of the narrator annoyed me especially. Take the following passage for example (which is by no means an exception): "I am the centre of young Tokyo, take it or leave it. I didn't ask for such overwhelming comfort and ease in my life. I was born to it. So I make the most of what I have and I despise the ugly, the poor, the diseased and infirm, because they do not beling to my circle." Yep. The guy is almost Patrick Bateman.
There's also a strange drug concept that contrasts significantly with the "first person really happened" vibe. At one point the characters take a designer drug called "Window", which takes the users back to their childhood and is even crafted to match their individual DNA. It gives the story an unlikely Philip K Dick flavour just when you're least expecting it.
I would have liked to see a bit more description - ie of the way Tokyo actually looks and feels. There's also a strange absence of Japanese language, not much about translation for example or any sense that the narrator is grappling with a foreign language.
(review of free book)