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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Part of Me
That Isn't Broken Inside

Shiraishi Kazufumi

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To purchase The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside

Title: The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside
Author: Shiraishi Kazufumi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 302 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside - US
The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside - UK
The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside - Canada
  • Japanese title: 僕のなかの壊れていない部分
  • Translated by Raj Mahtani

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Our Assessment:

A- : very effective and well-presented character portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 26/8/2017 Iain Maloney

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)s unrelentingly bleak as its title suggests. (...) The book is reminiscent of Hitomi Kanehara’s Autofiction, though Kanehara’s protagonist is made sympathetic by the inverted chronology, with each revelation turning her from predator to victim. Not so here, where Naoto -- perhaps due to his gender and obvious power -- never really wins more than our pity." - Iain Maloney, The Japan Times

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:

       The title of this novel, The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside, certainly suggests a seriously damaged narrator, yet Naoto Matsubara comes across as fairly confident -- sure of himself, and not much prone to wobbly vacillating (though he does drink to considerable excess rather regularly). While his actions are often impulsive, there's a sureness to the way he barrels ahead. It's a combination that works well in this narrative, which is basically a year-in-the-life story of the narrator, more or less bookended by his twenty-ninth and thirtieth birthdays, a slow-boil novel that holds back on its explanation of what broke Naoto and shifts from seemingly almost aimlessly meandering to being more sharply, darkly focused in building up to its conclusions.
       Naoto has a good job, working for a major publisher. He's now in the editorial department, and though he says he doesn't really care much which part of the business he's involved in, he seems fairly dedicated to and serious about his work. Still, his reason for applying for the job after university was only that the company reportedly offered the highest salaries (ah, Japan ...). He has a half-sister that he sends money to, because she's looking after their terminally ill mother; he's not at all close to his mother and avoids visiting her -- and his father abandoned the family when he was an infant.
       When the novel opens he's celebrating his birthday with a trip with his girlfriend, Eriko. The relationship seems to be going well -- so of course as soon as he's back in Tokyo, "I decided it would be better to stop seeing Eriko for a while", the first indication that he maybe has some issues with closeness and being involved with someone. As it turns out, he's involved with several women, including Teruko Onishi, a married woman with whom he has a purely sexual relationship (and who slips him money, to help support his mother's care), and bar owner Tomomi, a single mother who has a young son, Takuya. Naoto has few real friends, but two people -- also damaged, in their own ways -- do occasionally spend time at his apartment, often sleeping over: Honoka, a student whom he tutored when she was a teenager, and Raita. Naoto has a truly open-door policy -- he doesn't lock his apartment door when he's not there (or when he's there alone).
       The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside presents and circles around these relationships, and Naoto's interactions with these different people, slowly filling in more background or revealing more about them. The situations shift over the course of the year. Eriko gets closer to Naoto, even as he makes clear his discomfort:

I've never actually lived in a house where I've felt comfortable enough to invite friends.
       (Honoka and Raita are in a different category, and Naoto's open-door policy for them is his way of providing a sense of support they can't find elsewhere, a not-quite-last resort that they can always turn to.)
       Naoto's relationship with Tomomi is tested, too, as he moodily swings between considerable sacrifice and abandoning her. And Naoto's mother passes away -- something that obviously affects him, but which he only casually mentions to Eriko in the most awkward circumstances. He's not a sharer -- "You've never spoken so much about yourself", Eriko observes -- but then given his grim childhood and how it still weighs on him -- including some understandable issues with his mother, who was never really a mother figure -- it's not surprising.
       There are other relationships and deaths as well, and Naoto even moves to a new apartment, an attempt at a larger relocation that's doomed until he deals with all his issues and demons.
       Eriko diagnoses:
You're a person with a hole in his heart. It's afflicted, and it can never find fulfillment. You may have tenderhearted feelings, but your mind is whimsical and cold, although not so cols as to drive a person into a corner.
       And she also finds:
you're always trying to find radically unique answers regarding things about this world -- answers that are all your own. You hesitate to engage in everyman's joy, in everyman's contentment, or even in everyman's sorrow. Instead you're always complaining that there should be a brand new kind of happiness out there waiting just for you, or a sorrow that only you can suffer.
       Naoto is a man of strong opinions, and he's built up a protective shell around himself of his philosophy. His hurt is deep, and his only hold is certainty about a few things -- including:
the question I continue to think about every day.
     Why is it that I don't commit suicide ?
       The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside is, in fact a deeply and overtly philosophical novel -- but Shiraishi strikes an excellent balance between his narrator's existentialist theorizing and the supporting activity in the book. It helps that the others don't indulge Naoto too much -- Eriko complains: "There you go again with your weird nonsense. You're so full of it", and Honoka teases him: "Actually you're quite clueless about a lot of things, aren't you ! Such a shame". Better yet, Shiraishi's carefully layered narrative ultimately reveals a foundation supporting both philosophy and character fully -- impressively done. As importantly, he doesn't force a simple, rounded-off happy-end conclusion to the story.
       With a late, secondary twist, focused on one of the other characters, an act of violence ending in a death, Shiraishi arguably reaches too far, but in its (relatively, given its proportions) limited effect on Naoto it doesn't undo what else he's built up. But it has the feel of Shiraishi trying too hard, in a novel that otherwise works very well on its smaller, everyday scale.
       When Naoto finally opens up about his mother, and an important substitute figure in his life, his character comes into focus, Shiraishi artfully building up to those points with a narrative that until then seemed much looser and vaguer, Naoto seeming to act out yet actually flailing. His treatment of those in his life -- especially Eriko -- can seem harsh and occasionally cruel, and Eriko seems almost too understanding, but it does fit with the character and his history - and the way he sees the world in his philosophy. Details such as his inability to forget anything, in particular, impress -- and are worked well into a variety of aspects of the novel.
       The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside is exceptionally well done, a novel that seems to meander almost aimlessly along with its self-indulgent narrator yet is a tight and profound exploration of human hurt and intimate relationships. An impressive work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 August 2017

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The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside: Reviews: Shiraishi Kazufumi: Other books by Shiraishi Kazufumi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Shiraishi Kazufumi (白石一文) was born in 1958.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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