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In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

In the Miso Soup (1997)

by Ryū Murakami

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English (31)  French (4)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (39)
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I really enjoyed this rather crazy, Japanese book. [a:Ryū Murakami|8881|Ryū Murakami|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1200406808p2/8881.jpg] is not as dreamy as his namesake [a:Haruki Murakami|3354|Haruki Murakami|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1336646165p2/3354.jpg], which results in a more realistic book, while still maintaining that typical atmosphere.

Kenji, a somewhat neutral and unnoted youngman has a job as a guide for foreigners in the red light district. But one day, a new customer called Frank shows up, and, well, let's just say he's not the usual erotically frustrated old man. I did like the story, which had a particularly interesting ending. The book really excels in its philosophical approach though. There's a lot of interesting thoughts that have been implemented with grace.

I have noticed that some people struggle with the amount of gore in the book. Perhaps I'm just a guy who has been numbed by action movies and television news, but I felt it was an essential part of the story.

In short, this book is the perfect late-evening read (at 199 pages you'll manage to read it in a few hours) for people who aren't afraid of a book that enters some rather untrodden paths. ( )
  WorldInColour | Oct 12, 2013 |
This was one disturbing book. The only book I can think of that was somewhere as close to as disturbing was McCarthy's Child of God. I couldn't put this book down, it was disgusting and thrilling and felt entirely Japanese. I haven't read many Japanese authors yet but it seems there is some underlying buzz that makes it unmistakably Japanese. ( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
A page turner of a psychological thriller that let's you take a romp through Japan's seedy underbelly with an absolute madman. ( )
  bsima | Jun 10, 2013 |
This is one of the most shocking books I have ever read. At first it seems like an average tale of an American man looking for an authentic Japanese experience, guided by a local. In the middle of the book, Murakami describes the horrific actions of the American protagonist. It makes for very uncomfortable reading, but I couldn't look away. Although the description is graphic, it has to exist within the novel in order to throw the first third and the last third into relief. Without it, the rest of the book is a nothing. Very cleverly done. ( )
  missizicks | Mar 30, 2013 |
The narrator of In the Miso Soup is Kenji, a twenty-year old man who works as a freelance "nightlife guide." He escorts foreign tourists through the glittering maze of Tokyo's red light district, helping them find the entertainments and services they seek. The novel tales place over a three-day span, December 29-31, 1996. Kenji's client is an American named Frank, a man of imposing size and strength and, Kenji soon realizes, some very frightening characteristics and mannerisms. After the first two stops on their first night--a bar and peep show--it is obvious to Kenji that Frank is not what he claims to be, and Kenji even begins to suspect that this American may have been the one responsible for the grisly murder of a prostitute the previous evening.

Kenji's suspicious of Frank are, of course, well-founded, and we are soon in the midst of a grisly and suspenseful pshcyo-thriller. But from its second sentence on, it is also obvious that another purpose of the novel is to compare Japanese and American cultures. For example, Kenji observes:

What's good about Americans, if I can generalize a little, is that they have a kind of openhearted innocence. And what's not so good is that they can't imagine any world outside the States, or any value system different from their own. The Japanese have a similar defect, but Americans are even worse about trying to force others to do whatever they themselves believe to be right. American clients often forbid me to smoke and sometimes even make me accompany them on their daily jogs. In a word, they're childish...

Much later in the novel Frank mirrors this argument, in a way, as he is relating to Kenji what a Peruvian prostitute had just explained to Frank. Pointing out that Japan may have lost wars, but, like the U.S., has never been invaded and forced to assimilate another culture, she explains...

...so the people at home never came face to face with an enemy who killed and raped their relatives and forced them to speak a new language. A history of being assimilated is one thing most countries in Europe and the New World have in common, so it's like a basis for international understanding. But the people in this country don't know how to relate to outsiders because they haven't had any real contact with them. That's why they're so insular.

Yet while Japan and the U.S. do have in common a certain degree of cultural smugness, albeit manifested in different ways, Kenji finds a number of sharp contrasts, including this observation:

I remember the American making this particular confession, and the way his voice caught when he said "accept it." Americans don't talk about just grinning and bearing it, which is the Japanese approach to many things. After listening to a lot of these stories, I began to think that American loneliness is a completely different creature from anything we experience in this country, and it made me glad I was born Japanese. The type of loneliness where you need to keep struggling to accept a situation is fundamentally different from the sort you know you'll get through if you just hang in there.

Loneliness is a theme Murakami returns to in describing the Tokyo sex trade. Most of the women working as prostitutes or participating in "compensated dating" are not in need of money, he claims, but simply lonely. Likewise most of their clients are not seeking sex as much as simple companionship, and an ever increasing number of them are willing to pay a prostitute just to have a long conversation fully clothed.

Yet it is the American, Frank, and not the Japanese who is the central figure in the novel. He is a psychotic of immense, almost supernatural, power and ability. Yet he is also fully aware of his own condition and discusses its origins at length with Kenji. Presumably he is representative of the ills of society as a whole, Japanese as well as American. He is the product of a culture obsessed with materialism, where parents are so devoted to their careers that they neglect their families, where neighbors never meet one another, and where children are desensitized by a surfeit of artificial stimulation.

Ending with a plea for cultural understanding and spiritual focus, In the Miso Soup is clearly meant to be a thoughtful novel and not just a crime thriller. Yet the novel's brevity doesn't allow for much development of the author's ideas, so it's not quite as satisfying or convincing as it might have been. ( )
11 vote StevenTX | Aug 23, 2012 |
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My name is Kenji.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014303569X, Paperback)

From postmodern Renaissance man Ryu Murakami, master of the psychothriller and director of Tokyo Decadence, comes this hair-raising roller-coaster ride through the nefarious neon-lit world of Tokyo’s sex industry. In the Miso Soup tells of Frank, an overweight American tourist who has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife. But Frank’s behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion—that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It is not until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:54 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a tour of Tokyo's nightlife on three successive evenings. But Frank's behaviour is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion: that his client may in fact be the killer currently terrorising the city.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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