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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

All She was Worth

Miyabe Miyuki

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To purchase All She was Worth

Title: All She was Worth
Author: Miyabe Miyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992 (Eng. 1996)
Length: 296 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: All She was Worth - US
All She was Worth - UK
All She was Worth - Canada
Une carte pour l'enfer - France
  • japanese title: 火車
  • Translated by Alfred Birnbaum

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Our Assessment:

B : somewhat plodding, but a decent story, neatly spun out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/2/1997 Marilyn Stasio
San Francisco Chronicle B 16/3/1997 Peter Handel

  From the Reviews:
  • "The spare style and measured pace of Alfred Birnbaum's translation suit Honma's painstaking investigative methods and the somber tone of Ms. Miyabe's searching theme -- the value of the individual in a consumer-mad economy that punishes debt with ruin and disgrace, even death." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(D)espite the slow pace and occasional odd locutions, Miyabe's sharp social critique holds our interest, and she resolves the numerous disparate elements of the case with a satisfying clarity." - Peter Handel, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       All She was Worth is a mystery about some women who simply disappear. Or not so simply: it is set in Japan, and in Japan it's not easy to cut all ties with one's past and become unfindable.
       Shunsuke Honma, a widower with a ten-year old son, is on leave from the police, limping along after having been shot on duty. Out of the blue a distant relative he hasn't seen in years comes begging for his help: his fiancée, Shoko Sekine, has disappeared.
       The reason for her disappearance becomes apparent fairly quickly: she always paid for everything in cash, but her fiancé convinced her to apply for a credit card -- but the company turned her down. It turns out that she had lived too extravagantly years ago, running up huge credit card debts and eventually having to declare personal bankruptcy. Now, as soon as she learns that this information has come out, she seems to have fled.
       In part All She was Worth is a novel condemning Japanese attitudes towards debt and collection. Several times Miyabe has characters explain how debt has exploded in Japan with the proliferation of credit cards -- as well as the lack of protection for creditors. Collectors' harassment is common, and the police are unwilling to do much about it. The burden on individuals and families is tremendous, the shame and obligation carrying over to other family members. The possibility of declaring bankruptcy is a relatively new one, but also only a slight safeguard.
       No one is too surprised that Sekine might be driven to such extreme measures when her secret comes out. But the story is more complicated than that: it appears that Shoko Sekine is not who she claimed to be. She is another woman, who took the identity of Sekine -- without being aware of Sekine's own dark past.
       Personal identity is strictly controlled in Japan, family registers keeping careful track of them. Stealing someone's identity is not a simple matter, and much of the fun in the book is in Honma determining how (and why) she may have done it.
       The book plods along in places, and the attempts to explain many of the social and policy issues -- personal debt, debt collection, personal identity in Japan -- often come across as fairly wooden. Nevertheless, it's an interesting idea, and the crimes that are behind it do make for adequate suspense.
       A decent mystery, and an interesting glimpse of Japan.

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Reviews: Other books by Miyabe Miyuki under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Miyabe Miyuki (宮部みゆき) was born in 1960. She has written dozens of novels, and won several literary prizes.

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