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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Last Winter, We Parted

Nakamura Fuminori

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To purchase Last Winter, We Parted

Title: Last Winter, We Parted
Author: Nakamura Fuminori
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Last Winter, We Parted - US
Last Winter, We Parted - UK
Last Winter, We Parted - Canada
Last Winter, We Parted - India
L'hiver dernier, je me suis séparé de toi - France
  • Japanese title: 去年の冬、きみと別れ
  • Translated by Allison Markin Powell

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Our Assessment:

B : nicely twisted murderous tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 19/10/2014 David L. Ulin
Publishers Weekly . 4/8/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t is dark and edgy, original and bold. (...) By making it seem as if this were a true story, or based on a true story, Nakamura further effaces the line between reality and invention, suggesting that, on the inside anyway, they are one and the same." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(C)reepy if elegantly crafted" - 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:

       Last Winter, We Parted begins with the narrator speaking with a man on death row. The condemned man is thirty-five year old Yudai Kiharazaka, a photographer, convicted of killing two women, and the narrator has been commissioned to write about this notorious case. But even this first encounter isn't a probing interview -- or rather it's Kiharazaka that seems, quite effectively, to be trying to get in the writer's head. There seems ample room to do so -- a hint of some connection (the writer admits to also being, like Kiharazaka, a member of "K2" (and claims that it is interest in this association that motivates him to write about Kiharazaka)), for example. And the condemned man warns the narrator that if he actually opens up:

It would be as if I were putting myself inside of you.
     "Inside me ?"
      - That's right. Whatever's inside me, it would end up inside you. Whatever's inside you would probably be activated by the process ...
       The narrative returns repeatedly in its short chapters to the narrator researching the book, in conversation with Kiharazaka and the few who associated with him, as he tries to piece together what happened, but there are also 'Archive' documents/chapters interspersed throughout -- letters and accounts by Kiharazaka and others; some documentation (like a Twitter feed from one of the victims). The horrendous crimes are revealed in increasing detail -- showing also just how closely the circumstances mirror the classic Akutagawa-tale Hell Screen.
       Kiharazaka was a talented creative photographer, but clearly marked by his childhood abuse; the only one he was close to was his sister, Akari -- who has remained supportive but distant (not having come to see him since he was arrested) during this time, and who seems to have lingering issues of her own ("Two men are dead because of her. So far", Kiharazaka ominously tells the writer). And then there's the mysterious (and, as it turns out, pretty creepy) 'K2': as the man behind that explains:
All I'm doing is actualizing people's desires. Once actualized, certain things also become apparent.
       Actualization doesn't seem to be doing many of these people good. So too the writer finds himself in murkier waters than he would like -- waters Nakamura also keeps murky by, for example, not even giving him a name. As suggested by his association with K2, the writer also has some issues -- including a girlfriend whom he is keeping at arm's length -- but he remains a shadowy figure. Indeed, even Kiharazaka, in one of his letters, wonders:
     So I need to ask you this fundamental question: Just who the hell are you ?
       It's no surprise that nothing turns out to be quite as straightforward as it initially seemed -- or rather that the murky circumstances, from the murders and K2 to Kiharazaka's and others' relationships, are what they appear to be. Other characters also complicate what had seemed like a straightforward scenario -- Kiharazaka's sister, another person who is apparently interested in writing about the case -- and several of the characters have both a manipulative streak and a powerful hold over others. Kiharazaka doesn't exactly come off like an innocent victim from the way he presents himself, but much of his complexity rests in how obsessively simple and malleable a person he is; as one person explains:
     There's nothing inside him. He fell in love with his sister because he saw a movie about incest.
       And, yes, he read that Akutagawa story .....
       Nakamura twists his story pretty neatly, but can't unknot it quite so elegantly. Yes, it's very clever, but in the end he is reduced to spelling it all out very precisely, which takes away a bit from the impact. (He also cheats a bit in presenting an episode -- essentially the final chapter -- a little more than midway through the book, but only presenting the beginning of the chapter there, leaving out the good parts, and then completing the story at the very end: an arguably unfair (to the reader) withholding of what's already known by the relevant characters (though there is admittedly a certain pleasing elegance to being steered back on that track in the closing chapter).) He also goes slightly and unnecessarily melodramatically overboard in his final confrontation.
       Last Winter, We Parted is enjoyably twisty, and Nakamura does offer an intriguing (if largely shadowy) cast of characters; some of the ideas -- the connection to the Akutagawa story; K2 -- are also cleverly chosen and utilized. But he packs a great deal in a small space -- one imagines if this were a Nordic noir it would be three or four times the length -- and while this quick, shadowy presentation works well for much of the book, Nakamura can't keep it up in the necessarily detailed explanations he eventually has to offer. Many of the characters also do feel a bit underdeveloped -- intentionally (and arguably justifiably) so, certainly, as Nakamura likes to play with vagueness, especially about personal identity -- but given that other aspects of the novel (the K2 idea, and the narrator's involvement with that, in particular) are also underdeveloped the story can feel a bit skeletal; the various pieces used to assemble it (the different material and voices presented in the quick succession of short chapters) further contribute to that sense.
       Last Winter, We Parted is a good little thriller, and a fine fast read, disappointing largely only because one is left with the sense that much more could have been done with the many clever idea(s), characters, and story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 October 2014

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Last Winter, We Parted: Reviews: Nakamura Fuminori: Other books by Nakamura Fuminori under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Nakamura Fuminori (中村 文則) was born in 1977.

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© 2014-2023 the complete review

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