Friday, April 18, 2008

Battle Royale - Koushun Takami

Genre : Japanese Literature - Young Adults

American publisher : Viz Media : 15,95$ (the bad side of this edition is that it is full of misprints)

English publisher : Gollancz : 8,99£

Synopsis : In the Republic of Greater East Asia, a program takes place every year to prepare people to the worst, in case of an attack. That is the official version. This year, the third class B from Shiroiwa Highschool, in the Kagawan Prefecture, is chosen to participate to the program. The 42 students of this class are on the road in a bus for a study trip, but they wake up in a classroom. They're told that they were chosen for the program. They are on an island, from which the inhabitants have moved for the occasion. They will go out from the school one by one, every two minutes, with a backpack. This pack contains some food and water, enough to survive, a map of the island and a weapon. Once the first student is out, the game begins, they'll have to kill each other, only one must survive.

An extract :
" They hugged in this position and exchanged kisses. Was it just a few seconds? Was it a minute? Or was it eternity? In any case, the kiss ended. They heard a rustling sound. They sensed someone in the bushes behind them. That was their signal : all aboard. The train is departing, so you better get on board. They had nothing left to say. They could have fought against the intruder. He could have taken his gun and aimed it at the person behind them. But she wouldn't want that. What she wanted was to leave this world quietly before they got sucked into this horrible massacre. Nothing was more important to him than her. There was no room for compromise. If this was what her trembling soul wanted, then he would follow her. Had he been more eloquent he might have described his feelings as something like, 'I'm going to die for her honor'. Their two bodies danced in the air beyond the cliff, the black sea in the background, their hands still clasped together."

What I Think : This book is a marvel, a big favorite of mine. I won't lie, it is very hard and violent. It hits us in the face. From the first pages, we're already in the atmosphere, I understand it can shock some people, even I am among those people. I am not easily impressionnable, really, but here I didn't count the number of times I was feeling kind of sick, with the reading of certain passages, not really by the violence, but more by the situation in which it all happens.
I must admit that once you begin, you can't stop, you want to know who will kill who, and how. Even if we'd like all of them to survive, we perfectly know it won't be the case. So curiosity is the strongest.
But what I most like in this book is all the psychological dimension behind the characters, their reactions and their actions. And it's frightening, yes, it's really frightening. How would you react if you were with your colleagues on a deserted island, every one of you with a weapon in the hand, and someone told you only one must survive. Well it sends shivers down my spine, because I know that more than one would be ready to play the game to the end. And I can't even say how I would react, because finally I have no idea, we can't know for sure, I wouldn't be in the state of mind to play the game, but I could end up killing someone to protect myself, or due to an overreaction of fear and psychosis. You know 'Don't trust anyone'. And I think we'd all be more or less in the same state of mind.. And that's what frightening me. survival instinct. It's here, hidden inside each one of us, because for now we don't need it, but it always comes back to the surface in extreme situations.

I need to tell you that I cried more than once during my reading. The first time was in the begining, when Nobu, one of the students, is killed by the master of the game, before it even has begun. I was not waiting for that, it was so sudden, violent, it was like I was slapped in the face. Then, there was
the passage I quote before, a beautiful scene, my favorite from the all book. A young couple, they're in love, and they're afraid to be separated by death, to have to kill each other, so they decide to commit suicide. Beautiful. And finally, I cried in the end, but I won't tell you the details.

In fact, I think I cried because I was touched. And I was touched because all along the novel, we discover the life of these teenagers, their hopes for the future, their loves (and God knows how many secret love there are in this class!), their characters, their family life, what happened in thei life before the game started. That's why I cried, they're only kids, they haven't even begun to live yet, it's a f****** game...

Behind this story, those teenagers, there is the History of a country. A dictatorial Japan. And I really like this side of the story too. The president is called 'The Dictator of the Republic of Greater East Asia'. I like this denunciation of society. But I really like the theme of dictatorship : 1984, Animal Farm, V for Vendetta... But it scares me, it's so easy to abolish human liberties. There are still so many enslaved peoples. It's dreadful, it makes my back cold. As I often say Men are Inhuman.

Well all that just to say you really should read Battle Royale, it's a book which kills, in the literal sense of the word, a book that give strong emotions, a book that can't let you indifferent. But you need to have a strong stomach;o)

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