Book Quote:

“The story of Oda Sotatsu begins with a confession that he signed.

He had fallen in with a man named Kakuzo and a girl named Jito Joo. These were somewhat wild characters, particularly Sato Kakuzo. He was in trouble, or had been. People knew it.

Now this is what happened: somehow Kakuzo met Oda Sotatsu, and somehow he convinced him to sign a confession for a crime that he had not committed.

That he should sign a confession for a crime that he did not commit is strange. It is hard to believe. Yet, he did in fact sign it. When I learned of these events, and when I researched them, I found that there was a reason he did so, and that reason is—he was compelled to by a wager.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (JAN 22, 2014)

I have never quite read anything like Silence Once Begun. It’s disturbing, lyrical, original, provocative, and experimental in the best of ways. Yet it stands on the shoulders of giants that came before it: Sartre comes to mind, as does Camus.

The premise is instantly (pardon the pun) arresting. A thread salesman named Oda Sotatsu signs a confession for a crime that has baffled the Japanese authorities – eight older individuals disappear without a trace in what becomes known as the Narito Disappearances. Yet once jailed, he utters barely a word….even though we, the readers, know he is not guilty from the first pages.

A man who refers to himself as the Interviewer – named Jesse Ball – meets with Sotatsu’s parents, brother and sister, jailers, and a woman perceived as a love interest. Written in the conceit of notes drawn from interviews via tape-device, the story takes on an immediacy and fascination – particularly as we realize that the character Jesse Ball is in search of existential answers in his own life.

“One can’t say how one behaved or why, really. Such situations, they are far more complex than any either/or proposition. It is simplistic to produce events in pairs and lean them against each other like cards.”

And so it is here. Each person whom Jesse Ball encounters provides a credible part of the puzzle, yet each urges him not to trust anyone else. From one character: “You have to be very careful whom you trust. Everyone has a version, and most of them are wrong.” Who is telling the truth and who is lying – and in the grand scheme of things, does it even matter? As Sotatsu’s brother says about their father: “He said I had a liar’s respect for the truth, which is too much respect.”

The author Jesse Ball (through the character of Jesse Ball) raises the most elemental and universal issues. Among them: it is impossible to see things while we’re still searching; we can only find things by seeing what is there. Reason alone is not the answer; we go to absurd lengths to prove ourselves reasonable.

Interwoven with fables and poetic language (it is no surprise that Jesse Ball has published several works of verse), this story is also grounded strongly in reality. For literary readers, this book is sheer genius and has put Jesse Ball firmly on my radar for his past and future books.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 11 readers
PUBLISHER: Pantheon (January 28, 2014)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Jesse Ball
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


January 22, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Allegory/Fable, Literary, Reading Guide, Unique Narrative

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