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The Investigation: A Novel by J. M. Lee

The Investigation: A Novel

by J. M. Lee

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733250,774 (3.88)19
Fukuoka Prison, 1944. Beyond the prison walls the war rages; inside a man is found brutally murdered. Watanabe, a young guard with a passion for reading, is tasked with finding the killer. The victim, Sugiyama - also a guard - was feared and despised throughout the prison and investigations have barely begun when a powerful inmate confesses. But Watanabe is unconvinced; and as he interrogates both the suspect and Yun Dong-ju, a talented Korean poet, he begins to realise that the fearsome guard was not all he appeared to be...As Watanabe unravels Sugiyama's final months, he begins to discover what is really going on inside this dark and violent institution, which few inmates survive: a man who will stop at nothing to dig his way to freedom; a governor whose greed knows no limits; a little girl whose kite finds her an unlikely friend. And Yun Dong-ju - the poet whose works hold such beauty they can break the hardest of hearts. As the war moves towards its devastating close and bombs rain down upon the prison, Watanabe realises that he must find a way to protect Yun Dong-ju, no matter what it takes. This decision will lead the young guard back to the investigation - where he will discover a devastating truth...At once a captivating mystery and an epic lament for lost freedom and humanity in the darkest of times, The Investigation - inspired by a true story - is a sweeping, gripping tale perfect for fans of The Shadow of the Wind.… (more)



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On the face of it, The Investigation is a murder mystery set in a Japanese prison during the Second World War. It's more than that, though. It's a reflection on literature's power to imprison, to set free, and to sustain. It's an examination of identity, how individuals define themselves in relation to others and to notions of nationality and culture. It's a history lesson of sorts about Japanese treatment of Koreans. It's a beautifully crafted work, full of poetry and grace. The use of literature to underpin the story is compelling. If I have any criticism it's that sometimes the writing becomes stilted, when the author stops talking about the personal and starts trying to make a point about the wider context of the characters' lives, and that the resolution to the murder mystery was slightly ridiculous. ( )
1 vote missizicks | Aug 5, 2016 |
Yuichi, barely twenty, loves the books and poems found within his family's bookstore, often losing himself in literature and hiding away books that he wants to keep for himself. Soon he finds himself in the Japanese army, a mandatory service which soon leads to him being assigned as a guard to the notorious Japanese prison Fukuoka. There he will find himself put in charge of the investigation into the death of a cruel and sadistic guard, Sugiyama.

Things in this prison are not what they appear on the surface, there is much going on that Yuichi discovers as he continues to investigate. The Korean prisoners were treated horribly, considered to be nothing but work animals. One of the prisoners was a young poet, Yun Dong-Su and this young man would be the catalyst in many changes.

Although there is a mystery at heart, this is 1944 and there is much history included. Can a man be more than what he appears, does literature and poetry have the power to evoke changes in person? Dong-Su is a real poet, and factually he was sent to this prison. He would become one of Korea's revered poets. Much of his poetry in included in this story and it is beautiful. Even within the darkness of the prison beauty could still exist.

"So books were still alive, having laid down roots in someone's heart. The were living and breathing inside this brutal prison." ( )
  Beamis12 | Oct 8, 2015 |
The Investigation – A Beautiful Story

The Investigation by Jung-Myung Lee and translated from Korean is one of the most beautiful books I have read in a long time. It is a beautiful epic story of freedom and humanity, about survival in war and not everything is as it seems, as the saying goes ‘rivers run deep’. The novel is inspired by the life and death of the Korean poet Yun Dong-ju and uses some of his posthumously published work, and a wonderful body of poetry that is used throughout the book. This really teaches you not to judge a book by its cover because on the outside we may look like swans but deep down we are paddling like crazy.

The novel is set in Fukuoka Prison. Japan 1944 and outside the prison walls the world is at war which will eventually affect those within the prison walls. Watanabe is a teenage Japanese conscript prison guard with a love of literature has been placed on ward 3 which is full of Korean “criminals” and the bully of a guard Sugiyama who has a penchant for being brutal with the prisoners. It is when Sugiyama is found dead he is tasked with finding who killed him and to take over his censorship duties.

His original picture of Sugiyama is of a brutal prison guard and former war hero who enjoyed his role within the prison system. It is when he interviews various prisoners that he starts to build a different picture of the guard. When he interviews Yun Dong-ju he builds a friendship and respect for this Korean poet and it is through his interviews that a new view of Sugiyama emerges.

Also at this time the Japanese start to use the Korean prisoners as guinea pigs and Yun Dong-ju is selected to take part. Watanabe is willing and urging Dong-ju to survive until the end of war but see him weaken by the day. Watanabe is also shocked at what is happening in the prison even more so when the warden receives a letter from Manchuria towards the end of the war. Watanabe finally receives all his answers and they are not necessarily the ones he wanted.

This is a beautiful and captivating story that engrosses you from page one all the way through to the last page. A book about hope in the darkest times with a lament for lost freedom and humanity while war rages around and death is just something that happens. This book also teaches us that no matter how hard people want to kill literature it will live on in our minds and hearts however hard people try.

This is a stunningly beautiful book that is worth every minute of reading and is a shame to finish. The prose is beautiful especially when remembering this was originally in Korean, Jung-Myung Lee has written a brilliant novel. ( )
  atticusfinch1048 | Dec 23, 2013 |
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Life may not have a purpose.
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Disambiguation notice
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Haiku summary
metaphoric breath
limelights inhumanity
poetic kindling

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