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In the Japanese novel Go, Sugihara is a zainichi chosenjin, a Korean national, but resident in Japan, the child of Korean workers conscripted during the Japanese occupation of Korea. His family is originally from Jeju Island, which, again, is a place I’d previously known about as a South Korean holiday destination, but Sugihara’s father changed his citizenship to North Korea to support a brother who followed the call to return to the communist homeland. It’s all a moot point, as Sugihara knows, since the family lives in Japan, and has no intention of returning “home” to Korea.

Sugihara chooses to attend an all-Japanese high school, where naturally he goes by his Japanese name, speaks only Japanese and doesn’t mention his background. But the name of his Korean middle school gets out, and so Sugihara spends his break times fighting and defeating his Japanese classmates.

I thought this was going to be a cross-cultural love story, and I wasn’t fully prepared for all of the punching. There is so much violence. Sugihara has never met a face he didn’t want to punch. He trained with his ex-fighter dad, and so he wins when he fights his classmates, friends, ex-friends, and seriously, there’s so much punching. It makes sense, for Sugihara’s narrative and the wider story about Japanese-Korean relations, I just wasn’t expecting so much punching.

Sugihara does meet a Japanese girl who goes by Sakurai. Their teenage romance is appealing and realistic, although he can’t be honest about his family. (If you’re turned off by their over-the-top meet-cute, don’t worry, all will be explained satisfactorily.)  Sakurai also seems to be hiding something, as she insists on only using her surname. This story blends the teenage struggles of Sugihara, his high school friends, and Sakurai with the identities of Japanese, Koreans, and those who don’t fit easily into a category.

Go was written in Japanese by Kazuki Kaneshiro in 2000, and then translated into English by Takami Nieda this year.


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