The Dead

Written by Christian Kracht Daniel Bowles (trans.)
Review by Ellen Jaquette

This is a dark, atmospheric novel, set at the end of the Weimar Republic in both Europe and Japan. Emil Nägeli, a Swiss film director looking for inspiration, accepts an offer to create a film funded by Germany and Japan. Masahiko Amakasu is the mastermind behind this collaborative project, and Ida is the woman who comes between them. Much of the novel focuses on the buildup to Emil’s visit to Japan, with dream-like vignettes showing us the life of both Emil and Masahiko up to the present day. Once Emil reaches Japan, things move quickly; much of the plot involves the real-life assassination of the Japanese Prime Minister, also known as the May 15 incident. After the assassination, we watch the three characters complete their own stories in this new and unsettling world.

Kracht’s voice is unique and translated well from the German by Daniel Bowles. The writing excels at creating a moody, dark world that surrounds the reader throughout the novel and builds quietly. I was immersed throughout the story, following the characters and Emil as he comes to find peace with his assignment and its aftermath.

The novel lacks as careful a rendering of Ida, the only female character, compared to both Emil and Masahiko. We know little of her work and desires outside her relationship with the two male characters, and the conclusion of her story only highlights the lack of her first act in the novel. However, despite this omission, her story stays with you long after finishing. Overall, this is recommended for fans of atmospheric, dream-like novels, although the content and resolutions are not for the faint of heart.