by Jesse Ball
Published: 1/28/14 by Knopf Doubleday
4 out of 5 stars
I picked up this book because I was in the mood for something different. It definitely fit the description for something different...and I enjoyed it!
Silence Once Begun is a story narrated by Jesse Ball, who writes as an interviewer who is investigating a crime that happened in Japan in the 1970s. A man named Oda Sotatsu signed a confession, admitting to being responsible for a crime he did not commit, the disappearances of eight people known as the "Narito Disapperances." Once arrested, Sotatsu refuses to say a word to anyone in his own defense. So the interviewer takes it upon himself to interview those who knew Sotatsu to find out the truth.
This novel is structured like a series of interviews, and it reads more like a piece of journalism than a novel. Before each interview, Jesse Ball, the interviewer, writes a note which often gives warning that the person being interviewed is not to be fully trusted for various reasons. And I was often left wondering if I could even trust the interviewer, as he didn't seem to have an objective voice either! There are unreliable narrators all over the place here. Each person who shares their point of view has their own skewed version of the truth. (in this sense, it reminded me a bit of Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois). I found it incredibly fascinating to read between the lines of what each person was saying in order to attempt to figure out what really happened. However, the one person who might be able to shed light on what happened, remains silent throughout the entire novel.
The first page states "the following work of fiction is partially based on fact." The cover also alludes to this idea, with the words "A Novel" being scribbled out. The style of writing is meant to persuade you that this is in fact a story based on truth. However, after wading through all the lies and misconceptions throughout this book, in the end, I wonder if there was any fact in this story at all. The interviewer says he has changed names and dates and locations. How are we to know what is true and what is fiction? That seems to be a central question through this whole story. The themes of truth, silence and justice were thought-provoking and made for an intriguing read.
My guess is that this style of writing is not for everyone, as I have read that others found it gimmicky. It's a bleak and tragic story, so again, it may not be for everyone. I think I picked this up at just the right time, because it was exactly what I was in the mood to read. Something unique, something a little dark and something that made me think. It is a short little book and the interview style makes for quick reading.