Call Me When You Want to Die

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Call Me When You Want to Die
Author: Yongduk Lee
Specifications: ISBN  978-4309023366
249 pages
13.5 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, Publishers
Tokyo, 2014
Awards: Bungei Prize, 2014
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In this contemporary romance filled with noir elements, a young man is lifted to the pinnacles of ecstasy when seduced by a peerless beauty, but then just as quickly finds himself plunged into the depths of hell.

Protagonist Hisashi Tokuyama has failed his university entrance exams two years in a row and is now studying for his third try at age 21. The son of a doctor, he grew up in a well-to-do household with an older brother and sister, but he has always done poorly in school and has been traumatized by his family’s assessments of him as an underachiever.

Hisashi’s plan for better luck on his third try was to move out of his parents’ house into a small apartment of his own, where he could concentrate on his studies while working part-time at a tavern; but it hasn’t worked out that way. At the end of June he is summoned to a hostess club by a fellow part-timer from the tavern and meets the gorgeous 19-year-old Hatsumi Yamanaka, the club’s top hostess. When she first sees Hisashi, Hatsumi erupts in an exaggerated laugh for some reason, but then goes on to wantonly flirt with him. When he is about to leave she gives him a card with her mobile phone number on it; on the back she has written, “Call me when you want to die. Any time.” In very short order, this fateful meeting results in the two young people living together, and the story traces events from then until they fall in thrall to a death wish about a year later.

Hisashi can’t help wondering why Hatsumi ever took an interest in him. Although he likes to think he’s a reasonably good-looking guy, his income is next to nothing compared to the high-earning Hatsumi. All Hatsumi will say is that she thinks the two of them are a lot alike?which doesn’t really answer Hisashi’s question. Still, the sex is incredibly good, and Hisashi is convinced that she loves him.

Hatsumi is definitely an unusual woman. Words like “grotesque,” “massacre,” and “torture” stand out on the spines of the books that jam her bookshelves. She seems to know everything there is to know about cruel and inhuman acts that have taken place in the course of history, even talking about them during sex; it heightens their arousal. Eventually she suggests that they commit suicide together, saying it’s their “only escape.”

Poisoned by Hatsumi’s dark view of life, Hisashi brushes aside the concerns expressed by friends and a co-worker; railing at their unwanted advice, he breaks off relations and retreats into his own little world with Hatsumi. In March, he passes all of the university entrance exams he signed up for, and borrows 1 million yen from his brother for matriculation fees and such, but the backpack in which he put the money disappears, and his path to university closes again. Hisashi comes to realize that he is being manipulated by Hatsumi and everything is going according to her plan, but he is unable to give up his love for her. Before he knows it, Hatsumi has quit her job, they have both descended into a state of virtual starvation, and they are proceeding along the path to self-destruction . . .

Drawing on the “boy meets girl” and “femme fatale” motifs, first-time author Yongduk Lee makes the highly idiosyncratic character of Hatsumi come brilliantly to life. His work captures the deep angst felt by young people in Japan today who are fraught with uncertainties about their future amid a rapidly aging society.