Authors: Jesse Ball
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Jesse Ball
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Penguin Random House Companies.
Pantheon Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
A portion of this work first appeared in
Printers Row Journal
(January 26, 2013).
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Silence once begun / Jesse Ball.
eBook ISBN 9780307908490
1. Journalists—Fiction. 2. Americans—Japan—Fiction. 3. Secrets—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3602.A596S55 2013 813′.6—dc23 2013005948
Jacket design by Peter Mendelsund
For K. Abe & S. Endo
The following work of fiction is partially based on fact.
A strange thing happened to me, to me and to the woman with whom I was living. We were in the midst of a fine life. I would look out ahead and I could see how shining, how beautiful the world was and would be. I had let go of many fears, concerns, worries. I felt many matters had been solved. We lived in a house with our daughter, we had been married for several years, and the life was so glad and bright, I can’t tell you. I can say it, but you don’t know, or I don’t know how to say it correctly. There was a garden before our house with a high gate and trellis all around. We would sit there in the garden and there was time enough for everything, for anything at all. I wish for you to guess and feel the light, as if in morning, on your eyelids.
Something happened, however, something I did not foresee. She fell silent, simply stopped wanting to speak, and that life came to an end. I clung to it, though it was gone, and sought after all understanding that could be had of silence, of who becomes silent and why. Yet it was finished. I had to begin anew, and that beginning lay in trying to understand what had happened. Of course, such things aren’t easy. No one can simply tell you what it is you don’t understand, not with a matter as strange as that.
So, I began to seek after all such occurrences. I traveled to places, spoke to people; again and again I found myself without a way forward. I wanted to know how to avoid the unforeseeable troubles that come. Of course, it was silly. They can’t be avoided. It is their nature. But, in my seeking, I found out about the matter of Oda Sotatsu. That led to the book you now hold in your hands. I am glad to present it to you, and I hope that it may do some good.
An incident occurred in a village near Sakai in Osaka Prefecture. I call it an incident because it is so singular. At the same time, as you will see, there are elements that make it common to all who share our human life. When I read of it, many years after it had happened, I traveled there to unearth what more I could and discover the full story.
Most of the principals were still living, and over a series of interviews, I gathered the material that now allows me to relate this tale. The names of the individuals involved have been changed to protect their identities and the identities of their loved ones and descendants. Dates, as well as particular periods of time, have also been altered as a further protection.
In the pages that follow this, I may occasionally refer to myself as Int. or Interviewer, or may give a note to elucidate some situation. However, most of the book’s text is drawn from interviews recorded via tape-device. The book is in four accounts: the first from various people connected with (2) Oda Sotatsu, including family members and members of the metropolitan (Sakai) and local police; the second of my search for Jito Joo; the third from (3) Jito Joo; and the fourth from (1) Sato Kakuzo.
The first two sections are by necessity a narrative, with the data bound together and expressed in an at times novelistic fashion (although trouble has been taken to indicate sources). The latter sections for the most part do not necessitate this failing, as the materials alone proved sufficient to my task.
—Jesse Ball, Chicago, 2012
Oda Sotatsu was a young man in October of 1977. He was in the twenty-ninth year of his life. He worked in an office, an import/export business owned by his uncle. They principally sold thread. To do this, they bought thread also. Mostly for Sotatsu it was buying and selling thread. He did not like it very much, but went about it without complaint. He lived alone, had no girlfriend, no pets. He had a basic education and a small circle of acquaintances. He appears to have been well thought of. He liked jazz and had a record player. He wore simple, muted clothing, ate most meals at home. The more passionately he felt about a subject, the less likely he would be to join a discussion. Many people knew him, and lived beside him, near him—but few could say they had any sense of what he was really like. They had not suspected that he was really like anything. It seemed he merely was what he did: a quiet daily routine of work and sleep.