Book Review: All She Was Worth by Miyabe Miyuki

allshewasworthMiyabe Miyuki 宮部みゆき, born in 1960, is a popular female author in Japan. She writes mainly mysteries, crime novels, science fiction, and fantasy novels. Many of her works have been translated into English, French, German and other languages. Her books have also been made into films many times. Her work Brave Story was also made into a manga and  into a popular video game.

In 1993 she won the Yamamoto Shûgorô Prize 山本周五郎賞 for her book All She was Worth.

It is a detective story playing mainly in Tokyo. A woman named Shoko Sekine disappears suddenly. Her fiancé is desperately seeking her without finding a trace. Finally he turns to his uncle Honma, who is working as a private detective. Honma finds out, that Shoko was not her real name. Another woman had stolen her identity and taken over her life. Probably the real Shoko Sekine had been murdered. Who was the real Shoko Sekine? And what are the reasons for the identity theft?

The story is placed in Japan of the late 1980’s and 90’s. Young urban life and consumer debt had its fatal effects on a young woman. The underlying theme of the novel is the modern Japanese consumerism. The author sees herein a reason why normal people are getting caught in a debt spiral very easily. The main character Shoko had the habit of buying things and luxury she could not afford. This was getting out of control by heavy use of credit cards and the cash card system and in the end it what was driving her into the net of loan sharks. Consequently she even made steps into the underworld of Tokyo’s water business, into the red light district.

Chapter after chapter you will get more information about the life of Shoko Sekine, who is missing and about the woman, who stole her identity. About her reasons and how she managed to become another person and slip into a new life. But why would another woman buy her cracked identity? The motif is mysterious.

Miyabe Miyuki is very critical about the modern consumerism and its addictive influence it has on some people and in the end costs their life. The storytelling is not morally, but very reasonable and comprehensible. Miyabe’s key question is, how is it possible, that normal people get deep into debts and into the struggle with loan sharks. Hunted by them and see no way out?

The thrill of the story is lasting until the very end. The first half it is a real page-turner, then it slows down, when it comes to the solution. The detective unravels the mystery step by step, as Honma interviews the neighbors, colleagues, school friends and room-mates. It is a difficult puzzle with many pieces. Although the book has some length in the end, I would recommend it as a good read about modern Japan.

Miyabe Miyuki:  Kasha 火車. 1992. All She Was Worth. 1999.Translated by Alfred Birnbaum.

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