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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Sayonara, Gangsters

by
Takahashi Genichiro


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Sayonara, Gangsters



Title: Sayonara, Gangsters
Author: Takahashi Genichiro
Genre: Novel
Written: 1982 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 311 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Sayonara, Gangsters - US
Sayonara, Gangsters - UK
Sayonara, Gangsters - Canada
  • Japanese title: さようなら、ギャングたち
  • Translated by Michael Emmerich

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Our Assessment:

B+ : irreverent, surreal fun

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Village Voice A 10/5/2004 Ed Park


  From the Reviews:
  • "Sayonara, Gangsters, a thrillingly unhinged perpetual-motion machine full of absurd sex and violence, greased with the awesome confidence of a writer so committed to thumbing his nose at convention that he discovers caverns of wonder deep within said schnozz. (...) The least that can be said is that you never know what's coming next." - Ed Park, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Sayonara, Gangsters opens with the promise of a hard-boiled dystopia, as summarized in the first sentence, a newspaper headline that proclaims: "One After Another, Like Bowling Pins, U.S.Presidents Are Toppled by GANGSTERS". A few introductory pages describe a world where American presidents have trouble even getting sworn in; they're up to president number 70 before the book properly even opens (and 71, one expects, before the next page has been turned).
       Gangster-culture (of a peculiar variety) remains central to the book, politics doesn't. The novel focusses on a much narrower sliver of life, one character, who teaches at "The Poetry School", telling his story.
       Sayonara, Gangsters is presented in three parts. The first, and strongest, introduces the narrator and this slightly off-kilter world, and begins with an inspired notion of naming. From the vision of old, discarded names chucked into the river behind City Hall and taunted by hooligans as they float by, "unable to raise a hand against us", to what name-giving has become Takahashi offers a beguiling beginning. It explains also the title: Sayonara, Gangsters -- comma and all -- is the narrator's name (and not the oddest one in the book).
       In short chapters, some only a sentence long, some a few paragraphs, Sayonara, Gangsters describes his odd world: his loves, his jobs, his cat ('Henry IV', "a giant, black, ugly cat who drinks vodka-and-milk cocktails"), heartbreakingly: his child.
       The second part then properly introduces "The Poetry School". It used to take up a whole floor of a building, with tens of thousands of students reciting poetry in unison, but: "Poetry went out of fashion", and now a single classroom will do.
       Everywhere there's a mix of real and surreal, and mostly Takahashi handles it well: the absurd largely remains, somehow, credible. So the building which houses "The Poetry School", which has a river on the sixth floor, "at least an eighth of a mile across at its widest point". So even the General Motors 3 door commercial refrigerator/freezer that talks -- and channels Virgil, no less.
       The final section brings four gangsters to Sayonara, Gangsters' door, who have an unusual (but, by this point, hardly unexpected) demand: "We'd like to have a class in poetry." They aren't among the most receptive students, however: complications do ensue.

       Takahashi's presentation is the most impressive thing about Sayonara, Gangsters: he gets the tone, the sometimes only single-sentence chapters, the allusions down just right far more often than not. It's a risky style, a playfulness that can go horribly wrong, but the payoff here is well worth while. He stumbles occasionally -- getting too enamoured, for example, of a giant ferris wheel committing suicide, the sort of clever surreal image that fills the book, but which he can't let go of quickly enough in this case.
       The fascination with literature and what it can do is evident throughout the book, and from poetry-quotes to Sayonara, Gangsters' attempt to buy a collection of Thomas Mann stories (complicated by the fact that: "The writer Thomas Mann had never existed in the first place") there are clever literary references, cleverly used, throughout the text. And it's hard not to admire a book that offers descriptions such as:

     Once again "The Fat Gangster" began talking, choosing his words as carefully as Roger Caillois.
       The fantastic elements, not over-elaborated, presented almost off-hand, as well as the tone and the concerns addressed all remind of some of what Murakami Haruki has done (though he has almost always stayed far more grounded), as well as Richard Brautigan.
       Sayonara, Gangsters is a neat, well-conceived piece of fiction. There are moments where one gasps with surprise and pleasure. Well worth a look.

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Links:

Sayonara, Gangsters: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Takahashi Genichiro (高橋源一郎) was born in 1951.

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© 2004-2008 the complete review

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