The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu


Translated from by

Published: May 30, 2023





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Book Description

Katzuo Nakamatsu is at sea after being forced out of his job as a literature professor without warning. He retreats into flânerie, musing with imaginary interlocutors, roaming the streets of Lima, and reciting the poems of Martín Adán. Slowly, to the “steady beat of his reptile feet,” Nakamatsu arranges his quiet ceremony of farewell. With an electric lunacy, he spruces himself up with a pinstripe tie, tortoiseshell glasses, and wooden cane, taking on the costume of an old man he knew as a child, hoping to grasp that man’s tenacious Japanese identity. Like a logic puzzle, Enlightenment calibrates Augusto Higa Oshiro’s own entangled Japanese-Peruvian identity. Reminiscent of Kurasawa’s film Ikiru, Enlightenment emerges from a dark and labyrinthine mindscape, unraveling toward sublime disintegration.

Augusto Higa Oshiro’s febrile portrait of a man slowly losing his mind reads like a fever dream or an exorcism. After being forced to retire, Professor Katzuo Nakamatsu roams the streets of Lima mixing with other outcasts, expressing queer desire, and longing for love in a society where he and other Japanese Peruvians are detested ‘rancorously, hostilely, hatefully.’ Jennifer Shyue’s translation is breathtaking, each sentence gleaming with an intense, strange beauty, as Higa Oshiro limns ‘the charms of the night and the blackness of the world’ in this unforgettable novella.
May-lee Chai

Augusto Higa Oshiro’s The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu, in Jennifer Shyue’s miraculous translation, is blowing my mind. Higa Oshiro's words take me back to the moment when I first fell in love with literature as the process of threading myself through someone else’s incomparable eye. Oshiro’s summoning of life, of death, of the anatomy of solitude and the tactility of sight, and of the anguish and indomitability of the diasporic ancestors, is the dream—and the exhilarated darkening—of that original feeling.
Brandon Shimoda

A gripping, delirious ode to the Japanese diaspora in Peru. Higa Oshiro's tale of death-driven paranoia, suicidal obsession, and the persistent ghosts of national origin is captured in astute and heartwrenching English by Jennifer Shyue.
Kit Schluter

Oshiro explores issues of grief, ethnic identity, and aging in his feverish English-language debut . . . The prose itself is dreamlike, with long complex sentences evoking a lush garden, the bustle of a college campus, or the dangerous streets of Lima’s seedy district, as Katzuo searches for his former self . . . Oshiro . . . touches the reader’s soul.
Publishers Weekly

[Nakamatsu] is a man of order in a world that increasingly seems disordered to him, where he feels threatened by others that no one else sees, bombarded by sounds that no one else hears . . . A powerful, provocative . . . evocation of a mind unraveling.
Kirkus Reviews

A glimpse into a world and literary tradition that English readers rarely get to experience . . . Shyue has managed to keep an impressive amount of the tone and voice—the feel—of the original in her translation.
Peter Gordon, The Asian Review of Books

The despondent literature professor quickly descends into an abyss of human consciousness and abandonment as he begins to explore, like a dejected flaneur, not only his deteriorating state of mind but the poor neighbourhoods of Lima and the desperate people that inhabit them at night . . . This novel is an arresting tour de force by one of Peru’s most distinctive voices and a must-read.
Leo Boix, Morning Star

One of the best short novels in the Spanish language . . . alongside Miss Giacomini, Pedro Páramo, Aura, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Fernando Iwasaki

One of the best novels of what had transpired of this century.
Javier Agreda

This indispensable book is a piece of silversmithing that wounds like a slim dagger in the warp and weft of the spirit.
José Güich, Correo

Talented polyglot Shyue enables Oshiro’s debut in English, rendering Oshiro’s dense, lyrical prose into a resonating anti-bildungsroman of a man’s dissolution.
Terry Hong, Booklist

The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu is an elusive, enigmatic, and intense tale of death, madness, isolation, and identity . . . The lyrical, labyrinthine, looping sentences not only convey the complex pathways of Katzuo’s disturbed mind but also the contours of the city on his walking jaunts – a place of contrasts alternating between sumptuous gardens, hypnotic beaches, quiet affluent neighbourhoods . . . and the squalid, forbidden corners.
Radhika Pandit, Radhika's Reading Retreat

Translator Jennifer Shyue renders Oshiro into an impressively distinctive English. One that is, as she puts it, breathless. Gasping even, during swells of Nakamatsu’s torture, with clauses expanding and contracting like the panicked panting of drowning lungs. When in gentler reverie, the commas give rise to a soft swaying, like a bench swing lightly propelled, as by bare toes pushing off park grass. After Enlightenment, the duo’s prose rhythms continue to flicker and rock in the reader’s ear.
Alex Tedesco, Blathering Struldbrugs

I do not want to give away too much of this brilliant work as it’s best to dive in with your very own expectations . . . Katzuo’s journey towards enlightenment is, ironically, enlightening to the people who observe him more than he himself.
Bittersweet Misadventures

Katzuo traverses Lima, a haunted flaneur, his reality shifting imperceptibly into hallucination, the voices of ancestral ghosts loud in his ears. Composed of long, winding sentences, phrase following phrase, The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu is beautifully dreamlike, a work of evocative geographical and mental landscapes and of marginal histories made visible and vivid.
Marisa Grizenko, Plain Pleasures

Higa Oshiro’s novel deals with . . . Katzuo’s background as a nisei (second-generation) Japanese. As well as musing on how his ancestry has affected his character and behaviour, he begins to delve into history. He’s haunted by images of the first generation of Japanese arrivals in Peru, his father among them, and Katzuo’s own story is intertwined with tales of discrimination and abuse . . . an intriguing, fascinating story.
Tony's Reading List

Higa Oshiro writes this book very well, describing Katzuo's gradual descent into illumination, Kenshō or madness . . . His portrayal of Katzuo’s unsuccessful struggle to come to terms with his life as a Peruvian of Japanese origin is first-class.
The Modern Novel

This is a beautiful and exquisitely translated book
Phil Klay, author of Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War

A lush, unnerving book, which floats on a cloud of language through the streets of Lima.
Julia Conrad

If you don’t know much about the history of the Japanese diaspora in South America, well, neither did I; amid all of Nakamatsu’s devolvement, a clear picture emerges of the experiences of the Japanese in Peru . . . But the educative quality of the novel for ignorant North Americans like me pales in comparison to the artistic quality of the work . . . In Nakamatsu’s pre-spiritual wanderings among the bustling living and dead we get something like a mix of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo and the disintegrative novels of Thomas Bernhard.
Evan Dent

This hypnotic novella moves with a steady, tumbling pace, intensifying as it traces the protagonist’s descent into madness. [Nakamatsu is] pursued and driven mad by the strangled ghosts of his father’s generation.
Joseph Schreiber, Rough Ghosts

Nakamatsu reminds me of Clarice Lispector’s Lóri (An Apprenticeship): both live away from home, and their emotional response to this distance fills them with self-hatred, as well as a metaphysical angst; for a person without a country, the base act of being becomes an intricate task . . . On his way out, Nakamatsu finds a sense of belonging in a sphere that is incapable of ostracization: fiction.
Colin McKenna, Dispatches

Jennifer Shyue’s illuminating translation . . . is a revelation: a sharp, chaotic flurry of insight and musical mess . . . Katzuo’s madness unspools in the paths that hurt has traveled, fermented and unspoken, for decades . . . Lost amid history, Higa’s masterpiece scratches at the twentieth century’s most intimate and global horrors, from war to racism, and the concomitant tragedies of old age, loneliness, familial collapse, and cultural immiseration. In Higa’s telling, the artist becomes a spent being, breathless and frail, lonely but inspired.
Federico Perelmuter, The Southwest Review

Katzuo's forced retirement from his position as a professor of literature is the catalyst for a decline in his mental health. He is haunted by the looming shadow of death. He begins to have vivid hallucinations of the jungles of Peruvian Amazonia as he sits alone in his apartment. By conventional definitions of mental health, his 'normal functioning' is impaired. And yet the novel and Katzuo himself present his madness and existential dread as the very cause of his titular enlightenment. As he is consigned to seeming irrelevance, he seeks the company of his fellow rejects of society, and he embraces his madness as a new way of living.
Alyssa C., Powell's Bookstore

A rich and enigmatic little book . . . Jennifer Shyue has furnished an English translation of The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu that conveys the resonant darkness lurking behind the placid surface of Higa Oshiro’s writing.
Alex Lanz, Full Stop

The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu is a labyrinthine, dizzying narrative that often renders the reader breathless, and Jennifer Shyue’s translation superbly captures its various nuances, from the most delicate to the most brutal aspects of Katzuo Nakamatsu’s world.
Cristina Pinto-Bailey, World Literature Today

An excerpt in LitHub