Sunday, January 24, 2021

Review: Echo on the Bay

Echo on the Bay Echo on the Bay by Masatsugu Ono
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is probably my last book for January in Japan - the second book I've read by Masatsugu Ono from Two Lines Press, who I subscribe to.

Miki is the narrator and has been reading about anthropology in high school, so when her father's police job moves the family to a fishing village (Oita) and people start dropping by to drink and tell stories, she pays attention and tries to figure out how pieces connect and why some stories seem to contradict. The reader is limited to that same information, so it takes a while to realize that there is an underlying history of violence and corruption in the community, not to mention great harm done to children that uncomfortably sits on the page but is never addressed by the characters in the book.

The characters run the gamut from oozing drunkards to strong silent fishermen to cruel children. I think some of the older characters are supposed to read as funny but I was too disturbed to find them amusing. The cover probably symbolizes the red tide that occurs in the story, destroying much of the fish farm and oyster farm infrastructure. It's funny how sometimes when I end a book feeling unsettled (most recently, books from Argentina and Japan) - it's because there is violence that is used as a metaphor. So I've been asking myself what this book is really about. Is it about corruption and violence? Could it also (I'm stretching) be about environmental destruction and the parallel to human corruption? Or have I read Tender Is the Flesh too recently?

A conversation on page 71 makes me think maybe it is just more directly about violence in families and how dangerous it is when it isn't dealt with. I know countries are all on different stages of dealing with domestic violence and the trauma passed down between generations. I did find an article that domestic violence cases had reached an all time high in 2019, and then in 2020, many articles about how pandemic situations have made these situations even worse, as they have everywhere people are stuck together for too long. The first significant study I could find was in 1999 and this book was published in Japan in 2002, so I kind of think I'm on to something.
"'Violence passes from person to person,' Iwaya said, tickling Shiro's neck. 'And it builds up.'"
I haven't yet found many articles or reviews who discuss the book from this angle - so many reviewers want to compare the author to Murakami and interpret the events as weird, as if they are not really happening. But to me the true power of the novel is the idea that they really are, that people choose not to see the dead bodies and the rotten fish and the child chained up in the yard. And they are suffering the consequences.

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