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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Navidad Incident

Ikezawa Natsuki

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To purchase The Navidad Incident

Title: The Navidad Incident
Author: Ikezawa Natsuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 334 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Navidad Incident - US
The Navidad Incident - UK
The Navidad Incident - Canada
The Navidad Incident - India
Aufstieg und Fall des Matías Guili - Deutschland
  • The Downfall of Matías Guili
  • Japanese title: マシアス・ギリの失脚
  • Translated by Alfred Birnbaum

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Our Assessment:

B : solid South Sea island tale that stays a bit too mellow

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 10/3/2003 I. Hijiya-Kirschnereit
Publishers Weekly . 23/4/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Beständig changiert dieses farbige Epos zwischen realistischer Schilderung und magischen Episoden und webt Südsee-Bilder von Geisterwelt und Ahnenkult, von glasklarem Wasser, Palmen und kreischendem Vogelgestöber vor Sonnenaufgang mit konsumkritischen und globalisierungsskeptischen Passagen zusammen. (...) So setzt dieser Roman ein, der seinen Helden nach wenigen Wochen Erzählgegenwart und zahlreichen Rückblenden und Exkursen in die nahe und ferne Vergangenheit der mythischen, der Traumwelt zurückgibt, die sich als die stärkere Kraft erweist." - Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Despite ghosts, mysterious disappearances, and magical priestesses, the book is as much a leisurely commentary on post-colonial dictatorships as it is a work of magical realism. (...) Ikezawa's newest has its own strange, meandering charm, giving readers a glimpse into the legacy of colonization from a Japanese perspective." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       The Navidad Incident is, as the sub-title (and original Japanese title) has it, the story of The Downfall of Matías Guili. Set in Navidad, a fictional south Pacific republic of a mere 70,000 souls, the story begins with aging Matías Guili in his second term as president. The signal event, early in the story, is the arrival on the island of forty-seven Japanese war veterans, here to visit the island on which they had fought during World War II; travelling on the main island in a bus, they and the bus can suddenly not be accounted for: it's as if they had vanished into thin air.
       The disappearance of the bus is quite cleverly used: there's neither any obvious explanation nor any clue as to what could have happened; indeed, it seems impossible that something so large, with so many people, could simply vanish, especially in tiny Navidad. But there's also little to be done -- there are only so many places to look -- and so it remains an open mystery for most of the book. In this rather laid-back island-state, it's also soon not seen as the most pressing of issues, either -- there's little fuss about it, and certainly little urgency to take further action: they've done what they can, and that's pretty much it. There are, however, repeated 'Bus Reports' interspersed throughout the story -- strange sightings of the bus and the missing group -- amusing variations suggesting what might have happened, even as many seem quite far from the realm of any real possibility.
       The focus of the story, however, is President Matías Guili, whose administration is under some pressure. The novel retraces his life and career, which includes his ambitious embrace of Japan as a way out of his humble circumstances -- and as an alternative to the dominant Americans, who long controlled the islands after the war. Guili spent several years working in Japan and had some benefactors there; he also used his Japanese contacts and ties to achieve some business success, and then also political success. These ties have helped him consolidate power over the years (though getting back into power and office for a second term as president turns out to have required rather more ...).
       Now, however, Guili wonders about possibly going too far: on the table is a remunerative offer from the Japanese who want to harbor ten full oil tankers off Navidad, as reserves in case of an international crisis. He recognizes the potential environmental disaster, if the tanks should rupture, but there are also other concerns. Letters he receives from an insider warn him that there is a "hidden agenda" here, as, for example, the Japanese apparently want to take this opportunity to also station some of their Self-Defense Force here, making Navidad a covert tactical base in the region.
       There are also supernatural elements to the story. Guili occasionally engages with the spirit of "Lee Bo -- the erstwhile Leigh Beau", a one-time Pelewan prince who lived some two centuries earlier. There's also a girl Guili finds himself quite taken by, called Améliana, who has unusual "'disruptive' powers of prediction" -- and is the seventh Yuuka, one of the select group of island-priestesses: "who wield such absolute control over the spiritual life of Melchor that no secular power can override them". Her vision of what would happen if Guili does agree to the Japanese plan is indistinct as far as its time-frame goes -- its unclear when the consequences would be visited on Navidad -- but certain as to the catastrophic effect -- information that certainly unsettles Guili (as do most of his interactions with the unusual girl).
       The Navidad Incident is an appealing enough portrait of an aging leader who has led this sleepy, colorful small nation reasonably well, but also taken clear control when he felt he had to (and, as it turns out, clearly stepped over the line once or twice). Favoring Japan over the United States, his decisions have not had a catastrophic effect, but perhaps also not allowed the nation to do quite as well as it might have; the twin legacies of Japanese and American influence -- both under colonial rule and then less directly -- is quite effectively presented. Typical of the almost understated way Ikezawa approaches these issues is his treatment of the missing group of visiting veterans: they are a constant but shadowy presence, a reminder of situations both past and present, an entity repeatedly noted but impossible to get a fix on, thus keeping the various issues (specifically of a foreign imposition -- of will, military might, capitalism, and culture) in the reader's mind without, however, forcing those issues.
       From Guili's daily habits to the supernatural elements and the few other major players in this story, Ikezawa crafts a nice portrait of a man and a nation, with a nice spiritual overlay. Yet it also all feels just a bit too relaxed, Ikezawa indulging in some fine scenes, concepts, and events, but also seeming to constantly pull back from really following through at many points: even the most dramatic events -- and there are a few -- have an almost anticlimactic feel to them.
       A fine novel that comes across as just a bit too understated.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 November 2012

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The Navidad Incident: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Ikezawa Natsuki (池澤 夏樹) was born in 1945.

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