Akira Kido is a lawyer in Japan. He handles a variety of cases, ranging from criminal to divorce and negligence. He represented a woman in a remote city in a divorce case whose life had taken on the tragic. After a younger son dying from cancer, she filed a divorce action against her husband. The decree was final a year later.
She contacts Kido again, a few years after the divorce. She remarried, but her second husband had been killed in a logging accident. The problem was not the man’s death; the problem was that the man turned out to be someone entirely different than he said he was. She had contacted his brother, who visited her, looked at photos, and said the dead man was most certainly not his brother.
Kido’s assignment: find out who this man really was, and why did he assume the identity of another man? Kido soon finds himself plunging into the world of family registries, exchanging identities, slimy middlemen, and old, almost forgotten crimes.
A Man by Keeichiro Hirano may sound like a mystery or a thriller, and it certainly has some aspects of that genre. But it really is serious, literary fiction, exploring how fluid identities can become (even in this ago of digitized identification) and the deep desire people often have to change who they are. (To be clear: this isn’t a novel about identity and gender.)
Not only does the situation become more opaque as Kido investigates, he finds himself sometimes yearning to escape an unhappy marriage. Once, while traveling on business, he will try on having a different identity, and he discovers just how seductive that can be.
Hirano received a law degree from Kyoto University in Japan. In 1999, he submitted his unpublished novel Eclipse to a literary competition, and it won the Akutagawa Prize, going on to sell more than 400,000 copies. His novels include Farewell to the Departed, Ripples of the Dripping Clocks, Dawn, Fill in the Blanks, The Transparent Labyrinth, At the End of the Matinee, and others. He’s also published several collections of essays and interviews, and he’s been deeply involved in art and music. A Man won the 2019 Yomiuri Prize for Literature.
Hirano’s A Man, translated by Eli William, is a fascinating novel of identity and responsibility, juxtaposed against a culture that can easily embrace fluidity in both.