Cover Image: Seventeen

Seventeen

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Member Reviews

Interesting, if sometimes slow, novel about Japanese journalism and a man looking back at the choices he made. Kazumasa Yuuki frames the story as he attempts a challenging climb up a mountain with the son of his dead friend and colleague.  Set in 2003, it is a look back at 1985 and how Yuuki and his colleagues covered the crash of a JAL plane.  I know this was originally published in 2003 and is only now being brought to us in translation but I'm most curious how this would change if it were more current.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  This is a good chance to read a quite popular Japanese author.
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This investigative thriller bounces between two times of seasoned reporter Kazumasa Yuuki life, one time seven days of non stop office politics and power struggles the likes of which we here in the states might not totally understand, just to get the story of his life.  The other time 17 years later, during a trip he is taking to fulfill promises he made during those 7 days to fight some of his own doubts and demons, not to mention to answer some unanswered questions still plaguing him from that earlier date, but will he get everything he needs or wants?

This is a interesting book, full of action, suspense and much Japanese culture.  This was once written in Japanese but has been expertly translated in to English.
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Another fascinating inside look at Japanese culture. This time inside the workings of a local newspaper during a major story. Great characters. I really felt for them in tough situations. The agony over difficult editorial decisions and the politics inside the company. Such a line each person must walk.
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Don't believe the blurb! This is not an "investigative thriller" about how and why the biggest plane crash in Japanese history occurred, it's a newsroom drama about a bunch of journalists trying to cover the event, which puts them in numerous moral predicaments: 520 passengers have died, and what is a major tragedy for their friends and families is the chance of a lifetime for local reporters - everybody wants to be the first to report from the crashsite on a remote mountain, the coverage of grieving relatives becomes a source of revenue, and whoever will manage to find the cause of the catastrophe will have landed a major scoop. 

It is easy to judge journalists in these situations, and some of the characters we get to know certainly are real cynics, but Hideo Yokoyama shows that it is nearly impossible for them to get out of the double-bind: Newspapers need readers and companies which advertise, so they have to present attractive content - the media consumer is always present in this book, as a looming invisible power, as a caller and as a letter writer. It is obvious that the author knows what he is talking about: Before he became a fiction writer, he worked as an investigative reporter with a local newspaper North of Tokyo.

The book gains an interesting perspective by focusing on the head of the "crash desk", Yuuki, who has to coordinate the coverage from the office - he (mostly) decides what will get published without being present at the site. The reader feels the pressure he is under, and the claustrophobia that comes with his difficult position - he sometimes feels trapped inside the office, trying to fight for his reporters when arguing with the bosses of the paper and pushing back deadlines to incldue the latest developments. As readers, we also never climb the mountain or talk to relatives and the police - the whole time, we stay in the office with Yuuki.

This main storyline runs parallel to a second one, in which Yuuki's colleague and good friend Anzai, an enthusiastic mountain climber, suffers a cerebral hemorrhage and falls into a vegetative state. 17 years later, Yuuki and Anzai's son climb the mountain that Yuuki and Anzai himself wanted to climb when he was still well. The journey helps Yuuki to come to terms with the things that happened in the office and to his friend 17 years ago, thus intertwining the national disaster with the personal tragedy. 

I enjoyed reading this unusual thriller which discusses morality and the dynamics of human relationships. My only problem was that some parts are a little too long, and some observations are stated explicitly although their insight would have unfolded more powerfully if just implied. Still, a very worthwhile read.
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First off, Seventeen isn't a mystery/thriller in the usual sense.  The tension of this story takes place in the newsroom much like All The President's Men or Spotlight.  The mystery at the center is more of a slow burn and, for me at least, takes place outside of the action.  The narrative wades deep in the weeds at a Japanese newspaper as it covers and tries to scoop others on a plane crash.  Seventeen years later, the principle character tries to go back and unravel the mystery at the core of the story.  I enjoyed the book, but at times got bogged down in the minutiae of rock climbing and newspaper deadlines.
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If you are interested in behind the scenes, in the weeds decision making in a smallish Japanese town's newspaper, this book is for you. Bonus points if you also like climbing. If not, skip it.
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Hideo Yokoyama's Seventeen, like his previous epic Six Four, is an examination of Japanese masculinity in a highly pressurised work environment. The workplace here is a regional newspaper called the North Kanto Times. The main protagonist is a grizzled and pedantic journalist called Yuuko. There is a brilliant cast of highly macho supporting characters, divided into two warring factions.
Unexpectedly, a passenger plane crashes on a nearby mountain killing over five hundred people. The newspaper must spring into action and report the harrowing story while managing their meagre resources. It is the biggest story they have had for years, and is both exciting and awful at the same time. Another plot runs in the background, also concerning a man and a mountain. This other story concerns the two factions at the newspaper and is slow to reveal itself.
The novel reveals much about the Japanese culture. Yokoyama's Japan is full of distant fathers and submissive wives. Men feel more comfortable at work, and rely on women to do the emotional heavy lifting. Seventeen is an incredibly rewarding read, perhaps not quite as vital as Six Four.
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I cannot overstate just how much I enjoyed Seventeen, the author’s second book translated into English for the general market.  It well exceeds the promise of his previous Sixty Four. Written in 2003, Sevenyeen excels in the components that make an excellent novel. It offers a seemingly inexplicable mystery uttered by a character whose voice is later silenced: “I climb up to step down.”  Its strong plot also provides the contradictory excitement that comes to a newsroom during a plane crash of unimaginable tragic proportions and the excitement that comes with attempting a difficult mountain climb.  Its settings, the Japanese prefecture of Gunma, a local newspaper occasionally thrust into the national limelight, and a rugged mountain, provide the reader with insights into Japanese culture. Yokohama even manages to make us understand the horrible elements of the crash site without actually taking us there. But it is in his development of characters that the author truly excels. The main character, Yuuki, is probed and in a sense reconstructed as the novel proceeds. However, none of the cast of supporting characters, no matter how small her or his part, is given short shrift. Yokohama writes clearly and keeps the story moving at a reasonable pace, and it appears that his translator has done justice to his words.  I, for one, look forward to reading more of this author’s work.
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Yokoyama provides a superb follow-up to Six Four. Definitely a thinking person’s thriller that provides excellent insight into Japanese culture.
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