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Seventeen follows Yokohama’s first break out book translated into English; Sixty Four, but it isn’t a sequel or a prequel.
Hideo Yokohama is a former journalist. he used to write for the Jomo Shimbun, a regional paper in Japan. It was obviously easy for him to write about life as a journalist. Yokohama-san captures the atmosphere in a news room. The egos and tensions. Perhaps the biggest tension being the solitary nature of being a writer, whilst participating in the team effort of a daily miracle of creating a newspaper.
It describes a pre-internet world, where pagers were hot items, cellular phones were starting to make an appearance but outrageously expensive. Two-way radio sets were commonly used by taxi-companies, field services organisations (utility vans) and possibly media who couldn’t afford cellphones.
Seventeen isn’t a straightforward book to read, it has parallel narratives that wind together. One narrative is that of a senior journalist in a local paper in 1985 in the aftermath of Japan Airlines Flight 123; the world’s largest loss of life in a single aircraft accident. The second strand is the journalist some 15 years older; preparing to climb a rock face with the now adult son of a friend who died at the same time as the air crash.
The book mixes the existential crises of the journalist in both home and professional life; with the emotion involved in reporting such a horrific event. Yokohama captures the politics and internal pettiness of his office colleagues and the perverse nature of the company chairman.
Seventeen is a great read, which I can highly recommend as a summer holiday read. More book reviews can be found here.