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Naoko by Keigo Higashino
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Naoko and her young daughter Monami are involved in a horrible bus accident, which kills Naoko. When she awakes from her coma, Monami believes she is Naoko, inhabiting Monami's body. Since she knows things only Naoko could know, Heisuke, her husband/father accepts this apparent impossibility.

The author could have chosen to treat this story as a farce, a la 'Freaky Friday.' Instead this book thoughtfully explores the meaning of marriage and gender roles. As Monami/Naoko matures, she decides she wants a way of life entirely different from the life Naoko had chosen. Instead of settling for a mediocre education and marriage at an early age, Monami/Naoko wants to excel academically and to go to medical school. ( )
  arubabookwoman | May 9, 2012 |
In 1998, Keigo Higashino wrote Himitsu, or The Secret. The novel won him the 1999 Mystery Writers of Japan Award. In 2004, the English translation by Kerim Yasar was published by Vertical under the title Naoko, making it the first major work by Higashino to be made available in English. Relatively recently, I read an thoroughly enjoyed one of his other award-winning novels, The Devotion of Suspect X. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to read more of Higashino’s work. There is a reason that he is so well loved as an author in Japan—his stories are not only entertaining, but have some depth to them as well. Since only two of Higashino’s works are currently available in English, obviously Naoko would be the next one for me to read. I truly hope more of his works are translated because I still haven’t gotten my fill of Higashino.

Since he regularly works night shifts at the factory, Heisuke Sugita doesn’t always get to spend as much time with his wife Naoko and their eleven-year-old daughter Monami as he would like but they make a happy family. And then tragedy strikes. While Heisuke stayed home to work, the bus in which Naoko and Monami were travelling to visit relatives was driven off a cliff. Naoko’s body dies, but somehow her personality lives on in the body of Monami and Monami's mind no longer seems to exist. Heisuke and Naoko begin a strange new life together, keeping the personality switch a secret from everyone else. Naoko takes the opportunity to relive her life for and as Monami, making up for past regrets. Heisuke, on the other hand, is more conflicted; Naoko is now in some way both his wife and his daughter. People believe he is grieving over the death of Naoko, but really his loss is much more complicated than that.

I actually think I liked Naoko even better than I did The Devotion of Suspect X. Part of this is due to the fact that, unlike in The Devotion of Suspect X, the reader has the opportunity to really get to know the heart and mind of one of the characters. In this case, since the novel is told completely from his perspective, it is Heisuke Sugita, a very normal and potentially boring husband and father. However, he finds himself in some extraordinary and unusual circumstances with little guidance on how to deal with them. It is fascinating to watch this admittedly average guy work through things to the best of his ability and see how the odd situation changes him over time. Heisuke is not perfect, in fact he can be an utter asshole at times, but when it gets right down to it, he’s a good person. He doesn’t handle everything well by any means, but that’s what makes him feel real as a character. The situation he finds himself in is certainly strange and bizarre but his characterization is so strong, I can’t imagine him behaving any differently.

The back cover describes Naoko as “black comedy.” While the setup does cause some humorous and amusing encounters, I had a hard time approaching the novel as a comedy. Instead, it felt to me more like a meditation on love, loss, longing, and letting go. Higashino is often considered to be primarily a mystery author, winning many awards in the genre in addition to the one he received for Naoko. However, Naoko is different from the sort of mystery novels most typically seen in the United States--at least in my experience. Heisuke isn’t some brilliant investigator (Higashino even calls him "altogether lame" in an interview); he’s just a normal person who wants to figure out what’s going on and why. Eventually, he must learn to accept his circumstances. There is both humor and mystery in Naoko, but first and foremost it is simply a well told and engaging story. At times tragic and heartbreaking, it is a very satisfying novel and I’m very glad to have read it.

Experiments in Manga ( )
1 vote PhoenixTerran | May 11, 2011 |
This is an unusual story about a Toyko family. The mother, Naoko, and her 11-year old daughter are travelling on a crowded ski bus going to visit Naoko's family who lives in the mountains. The driver, fatigued from overwork, loses control of the bus and it drives over the edge of the cliff into a deep ravine. Naoko is severly injured but conscious when her husband, Heisuke, arrives at the hospital. He is able to reassure her that their daughter, Monami, is also still alive and pushes their beds together so that Naoko is able to touch Monami's hand. Hands still clasped, Naoko dies peacefully. Days later, when Monami emerges from the coma she'd been in, Heisuke is shocked to discover that it is Naoko's spirit that is living inside Monami's body.

After Monami's release from the hospital, Heisuke and Naoko struggle to find a new way of living together. They are still in love, still committed to one another, yet not quite married anymore. Heisuke must deal with advice from others, including his father-in-law, that he should look for another wife. But how can he, when Naoko is still there in his house? Naoko, on the other hand, still has the thoughts and memories of a grown woman but is confined to a girl's body. Suddenly she is facing puberty all over again. However, she has the opportunity to make different life choices than she did the first time around. What would Heisuke think if she decides to seek an education and career this time - taking a different path than the one that led them to meet and fall in love?

The synopis on the cover of the book describes it as "a black comedy of hidden minds and lives". I think that is misleading - I'd have called it "a poignant story of love and loss". The main character in the book is Heisuke, and the story is told from his point of view. He struggles with being a father to his wife and a husband to his daughter. Neither is right. He loves them both. One of them is gone, but he doesn't know who to mourn. ( )
2 vote sjmccreary | Jan 18, 2010 |
Naoko is the first book by Keigo Higashino to be translated into English. It's an odd tale of a mother and daughter who are in a bus accident, the mother, Naoko, sustains fatal injuries, the daughter, Monami, lays in a coma. Heisuke, the father, is there when his daughter awakes from the coma. But it's Naoko, not Monami, in the body of the eleven-year-old girl.

What follows is the confusion of family life turned inside out. Naoko must adjust to the life of a schoolgirl, Heisuke to living with his not-quite wife. Naoko is a well written, imaginative book, with a wealth of detail of daily life in Japan. I enjoyed it very much, staying up late to finish it. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Dec 16, 2009 |
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Expertly interweaving the real and the unreal, Naoko involves a working man, Heisuke, whose wife dies in a bus accident. His young daughter survives, but seems to be inhabited by her mother's personality.

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