Book review: 『天山を越えて』by Koshi Kurumizawa

天山を越えて (てんざんをこえて)
Title: 天山を越えて (てんざんをこえて)
First published: 1982
Page Count: 379
Yoshimaru Eto is now 71 years old and lives with one of his grand-daughters in Tokyo. Unexpectedly though, his tulmutuous past calls him back to Central Asia where he was sent when he was 23 years old. Eto had recounted his travel in a short story that he wrote in 1960 but that never got any success. The reader gets to read this story and follow Eto’s perilous travel to reach the Tian Shan.

『天山を越えて』won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1983, but it is more an adventure novel than a mystery novel. The author has migrated to Manchukuo during the war and worked for the military intelligence.

I was very surprised to see that two works of SF that are not mystery at all won the MWJ Award in previous years, so I was less surprised to see that in 1983, the award honoured a book that belongs to the adventure genre.

I personally don’t really like adventure novels, so there is not much I can say in this review. I did not enjoy reading this book because the genre is just not for me. There is a mix of historical background with serious themes like war, and some elements that did not feel realistic at all (for example, everything related to the intelligence services). I think that the point is to deliver a suspenseful and exciting story, so it is fine to accept unrealistic elements if they allow the story to be more thrilling. Unfortunately, it has the result to make me lose interest in the story.

I also found that the plot came before the characters, which again might be a characteristic of adventure fiction, but the result was that I never really cared for any of the characters of what happens to them.

This being said, I found the structure of the book interesting as it contains several stories inside the story. The idea of reading a written account in the book to have all the pieces of the puzzle and see the story as a whole was very interesting. Unfortunately, there is no real mystery to be solved through these various accounts, which was really underwhelming to me. 

If you want to read a nice adventure novel that will take you across the Tian Shan in the 1930s, then this is a book for you! It is certainly a great novel, but it is really not for me, and I feel a little betrayed by the prize, because I am obviously interested in mystery and detective novels. (天山を越えて was the runner-up for the very first year of the 日本冒険小説協会大賞, a prize for adventure fiction.)