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Death Sentences

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  161 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Japan, 1980s: A special police squad is tracking down one of the “afflicted” to recover the “stuff.” Although the operation seems like a drug bust, the “stuff” is actually some kind of text. Death Sentences—a work of science fiction that shares its conceit with the major motion picture The Ring—tells the story of a mysterious surrealist poem, penned in the 1940s, which, th ...more
Paperback, 268 pages
Published February 24th 2012 by Univ Of Minnesota Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  161 ratings  ·  33 reviews

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May 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
Warning: minor plot spoilers & also some possibly trigger-y stuff about sex and violence.


The use of the word "masterpiece" to describe this book is to stretch the meaning so thin that you could read the classifieds through it.

This translation of Kawamata's sixteenth novel (which won at least one major Japanese genre prize) is out of the U of Minnesota, so it comes larded with critical hoo-haw on both sides (foreword and afterword.) In between is a novel that reads sort of like this:

The w
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Quick, light read. Some style lost in translation but the short sentences propel you forward very quickly as meant to be. Book is sort of skipping genres; French art and literary history, drug heist, a possible war on humanity, all in different settings across space-time. So in that sense a lot of typical Japanese creation and viewpoint involved. Was a bit repetitive in the middle and then ending was abrupt but was fitting and nice, the short type where you either have to 'get it' immediately or ...more
May 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Pay no attention to the Bechdel Test. It's meaningless drivel. This is a good book, if flawed. Those flaws have nothing to do with gender issues however. Reform School Girls and She Devils of the SS both pass that test. Are you going to try and tell me that those films don't objectify women?

In fact, it's often harmful. If a book is dominated by males and a female character makes her mark, it fails the test. If a woman is an introvert, the book fails the test. Under the test, a woman's relations
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found the first third of this book utterly fascinating, but the book read a little like the camera was on the wrong character for a lot of it.

I found the idea solid, the execution felt curious in points, but overall it was a pretty compelling story. With that said, I don't feel the ending gave a whole lot of satisfaction. I think it's important that, regardless of the subject matter, this book is more literary than it is science fiction or slipstream, and the ending reflects that.

I would defin
Marie Bartolo
Was expecting this one to be a bit more expansive. There's less science fiction and detective story and a bit much too tine spent on the Andre Breton/surrealists for my taste.
Sheena Carroll
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
An amazing concept that was poorly executed. There's a strange sprinkling of misogyny and detailed sexual assaults that have no bearing on the actual plot.
Oct 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Acaciabee Blackwell
Apr 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Several things interested me about Kawamata’s Death Sentences. One thing that stood out to me is that the narrative is highly concept-driven, without a great amount of characterization, imagery, or even to a certain extent, plot. For example, I was intrigued by the idea of a text which, when read, poisons or transforms it’s reader irreversibly, and how that concept, seen through the lens of mid 20th century surrealist sensibilities, alluded to the whole 20th century as a sort of unfinished proje ...more
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
For a book written so sparsely, Death Sentences is a dizzying experience chockfull of ideas, blending the hard-boiled with the surreal and shifting seamlessly from psychological horror to grand metaphysical statements. The resolution is perhaps a little underwhelming, though to Kawamata's credit this is because he builds a concept up so well that I found myself disappointed that it ended before going even further (perhaps he's unlocked a Who May mastery of language himself). It's ultimately a ti ...more
Sep 09, 2012 rated it liked it
A strange, but compelling book, this takes the "see me and die" theme of Ringu, or Pahlaniuk's "Lullaby" to new mysterious dimensions. Weaving in and out of time and place, from 30's Paris to 2030's Mars, the Surrealist movement of the early twentieth century is made responsible for the fate of the world, as some of them always thought they were. I thought the translation was a bit awkward, but it did leave an unreal feel to the novel, so maybe it was meant to be that way.
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it
While the lack of women as people and only as sexual objects did bother me as a woman, I was so engrossed in the idea and the atmosphere of the novel that it didn't detract from the experience. If you love poetry and surrealism this is a very fascinating read. I am gullible though and find it easy to sink myself into something so unrealistic and fantastic and I love it when I find a world that takes me to such a weird interesting place.
World Literature Today
Written in the style of a fast-paced airport novel, Death Sentences surprises with its originality and conceptual depth." - Michael A. Morrison, University of Oklahoma

This book was reviewed in the November 2012 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website:
Nov 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: btba-13, 2012
Very quick read with a good conceit and a somewhat lackluster ending.

The scholarly contextualization (in a forward by Takayuki Tatsumi and an afterword by co-translator Thomas Lamare might not be for everyone, but provides some insight into the Kawamata's place in Japanese SF and his interesting take on the continuum of surrealism and science fiction.
Sep 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
i did not experience a a magical poem, a 'vortical experience', as the forward to the novel might suggest.
recommended for those who enjoy frustratingly long montages and stretches of little to no plot development.
Nov 06, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: fantasy-scifi
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
Great book and fun to read ... The novel traces the history of a poem with psychotic powers from its inception in the past to its profound impact on the future of mankind, several centuries into the future .. Brilliantly written, albeit it abruptly ended ... Hence the 4 stars ...
Jul 06, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5. Quick read, interesting premise, ended too abruptly. The author should have developed the plot further, climax was sudden and disappointing - felt like I read half a book, an unfinished painting that would have been fascinating, I suspect, if completed.
May 14, 2012 marked it as wish-list
Shelves: novels
Reviewed by D. Harlan Wilson on Los Angeles Review of Books:

Samuel Holcombe
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Impressive and erudite.
Gary Homewood
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Murakami meets Phillip K Dick meta sci-fi about the power of the written word, including 2 essay critiques that provide interesting context.
Nov 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Nice book. It has very bright idea, and at the beginning it is fun to read. However, that book is about nothing and finale is very disappointing. Dobaded!
On the fence about whether this taught well or no; will have to see papers on it.
+1 star for the concept
+1 star for the effort

-1 star for the disjointed execution
-1 star for the dialogue
-1 star for getting my hopes up

Mar 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Can reading a poem lead to addiction and death?
Will E
A great idea marred by not-so-great writing.
the gift
another Philip K Dick book he did not write (in Japanese this time)...
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Creepy as hell, even as a work in translation.
Apr 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Not quite what I expected, but a very good read (also a very quick read, despite the subject).
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
what did i just read

not reading a summary would've made me enjoy this even more, i think

it was pretty noir and intense
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese-writers
Enjoyable read, gives my mind a chance to run wild with imaginations.
I don't really understand the style, which is extensively discussed in the foreword and afterword.
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