Publication: 8th February 2018 from riverrun
1985. Kazumasa Yuuki, a seasoned reporter at the North Kanto Times, runs a daily gauntlet against the power struggles and office politics that plague its newsroom. But when an air disaster of unprecedented scale occurs on the paper’s doorstep, its staff is united by an unimaginable horror, and a once-in-a-lifetime scoop.
2002. Seventeen years later, Yuuki remembers the adrenaline-fuelled, emotionally charged seven days that changed his and his colleagues’ lives. He does so while making good on a promise he made that fateful week – one that holds the key to its last unsolved mystery, and represents Yuuki’s final, unconquered fear.
Wow. This was an immersive and utterly compelling read. Though billed as a mystery, it isn’t really; it is literary fiction, and damned fine literary fiction at that. Not that classification matters when a book is as good as this one.
Seventeen is one of those books that stay with you. On one level it is a fascinating insight into the workings of a small daily newspaper with all the tensions, infighting and personality conflicts that come from a group of people working together. Overlaying that is the local and regional political dimension control of the newspaper is in the hands of rival political factions, and each side spends a long time trying to oust the other in a rivalry that seeks to benefit local politicians, but has no thought for the readers of the paper.
In the midst of this endless petty bitching and squabbling is our seasoned reporter, Yukki, working at the North Kanto Times, who finds himself in charge of the coverage of the biggest air disaster the area has ever seen – and it is in their patch. Seventeen tells the story of how that coverage impacts on Yuuki, his family and everyone involved in the reporting and does so in an intimate, searching and very on point fashion.
Here are all the small decisions that make a huge impact on coverage and circulation; the big editorial decisions that make or break the reputation of those in charge; the tensions between advertising, circulation and editorial and in the midst of this, one man, Yuuki, struggling to make sense of it all.
Seventeen is very much a human story. Yuuki struggles with maintaining a home/work balance and pretty much loses all the time. Not by nature an outgoing individual, he prefers to stay out of the political squabbles, but when they threaten to overpower the biggest story the paper has ever handled, he knows he has to step up to the plate whatever the personal cost.
Seventeen is a dual timeline story. Written in part in the present as he fulfils a promise made to an old friend to climb a mountain, and also in the past with Yuuki looking back on that time seventeen years ago to a period which defined his future.
This is a complex novel which takes a bit of time to really settle into. This is partly because the Japanese situation feels a bit clunky to begin with to this western reader, with so many characters and a huge series of interwoven relationships. But once I had overcome my uncertainty, this book held my attention in a strong and steady grip.
Yuuki is no archetypal hero, but he overcomes some pretty big personal obstacles to find his way through and in the end his courage is rewarded.
For those who love newspapers, this is a must read. For an insight into the world of journalism and macho culture, it is exceptional. For those who just love to read a deeply personal story of loss and self-realisation, it is a unique and joyous read.
About Hideo Yokoyama
Born in 1957, Hideo Yokoyama worked for twelve years as an investigative reporter with a regional newspaper north of Tokyo, before becoming one of Japan’s most acclaimed fiction writers. Seventeen is his second novel to be translated into the English language. His first, Six Four, was a Sunday Times bestseller in hardback and paperback, became the first Japanese novel to be shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, was named in the Crime and Thrillers of 2016 roundups in each of the Guardian, Telegraph, Financial Times and Glasgow Herald, and has since been translated into thirteen languages worldwide.