Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on January 28th 2014
Genres: Crime, Fiction, Historical, Literary
Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun is an astonishing novel of unjust conviction, lost love, and a journalist’s obsession. Over the course of several months, eight people vanish from their homes in the same Japanese town, a single playing card found on each door. Known as the “Narito Disappearances,” the crime has authorities baffled—until a confession appears on the police’s doorstep, signed by Oda Sotatsu, a thread salesman. Sotatsu is arrested, jailed, and interrogated—but he refuses to speak. Even as his parents, brother, and sister come to visit him, even as his execution looms, and even as a young woman named Jito Joo enters his cell, he maintains his vow of silence. Our narrator, a journalist named Jesse Ball, is grappling with mysteries of his own when he becomes fascinated by the case. Why did Sotatsu confess? Why won’t he speak? Who is Jito Joo? As Ball interviews Sotatsu’s family, friends, and jailers, he uncovers a complex story of heartbreak, deceit, honor, and chance.
I think I might be an outlier on my feelings about this book. While I appreciate the structure and style of this novel I have a thing about gimmicks. The gimmick here is that journalist “Jesse Ball” is obsessed with the “true story” of Oda Sotatsu. So I’m irritated right off the bat – what’s true? What’s imagined? Is this historical fiction or straight up fiction?
That being said, the writing is quite lovely in this novel and the structure is unique. Told (mostly) in a series of interviews with people connected with Sotatsu, it felt a little like Solomon the Peacemaker (which you almost definitely have not read, but totally should). Outside the gimmick the story itself is compelling enough until you get to the end. Here I’m going to put a big fat…