In English,  Mystery

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store by Keigo Higashino

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store is a special book. Keigo Higashino is a prolific author, but most of his works aren’t published in English. Of the books that are most are mysteries. However, The Miracles of the Namiya General Store is something else entirely. Published by Yen On and translated by Sam Bett, this book is of a genre that is hard to place. It is a coming-of-age/mystery/fantasy kind of situation. One could even argue for magical realism. The variety of themes and wide genre is exactly what makes the book compelling for many types of readers.

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store covers a lot of ground and constantly keeps readers on their toes. The plethora of characters we meet make the story dynamic and engaging and Sam Bett has done a stunning job bringing all the various characters and their stories to life. It’s is moving and a heartful read for anyone ready to take the plunge.

The Story

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store cover

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store focuses on a closed shop in a residential area and the strange events surrounding. It is, unsurprisingly, called the Namiya General Store. The story begins with three young men on the run and looking for a hideout. They have just committed a robbery and their getaway car has broken down. One of the robbers has seen the Namiya General Store before and directs the others there. This is how they end up inside the boarded up Namiya General Store.

However, shortly after they arrive, a letter is pushed through the mail slot in the front door. The three of them immediately start to panic. Yet curiosity gets the better of them and they open the letter. The writer is asking about the Olympics – an event that happened several decades in the past. Bored, one of the boys, Atsuya, decides to answer. Before long, he gets a response.

As the night wears on, the boys receive more letters and write more replies. What will they do with the knowledge they have gained and how will it change their lives? Both readers and the main protagonists have to spend the story searching for what connects everything and exactly what that means. The Miracles of the Namiya General Store is a story about life and all its best and worst moments.

A Story in Layers

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store is a story written in layers. The existence of three protagonists make this clear from the start. Each young man has a different, but connected life story that led them to be in the Namiya General Store after a robbery. Then we have the people writing the letters. Apparently they are from the past, but it’s anyone’s best guess as to if that’s true or not. As a result, there are dozens of connections to be made – more and more with every page.

This may seem confusing, but Higashino has executed the story with precision. With each chapter, our knowledge of the protagonists and the people they are writing to grows. The gradual nature of the process allows readers to feel comfortable in their newly gained knowledge. Yet this approach also leaves us hungry for more – making the book nearly impossible to put down. “Only another chapter,” you’ll say as you strive to gain the next clue. In this way the book is also reminiscent of a mystery novel without necessarily being one.

The Translation

Then, there is the brilliance that is the translation. Sam Bett did an absolutely incredible job bringing the world of the Namiya General Store to life. It has been translated in a way that the unsuspecting reader may not even know the book is a translation – though that could be good or bad, depending on who you are. Nonetheless, it is clear that the translation is cleverly done. The way he approached translating very specifically Japanese things, was both approachable and easy to understand. Even readers that are unfamiliar with Japan and culturally specific events wouldn’t have trouble reading this book.

This type of readability is essential in a book like The Miracles of the Namiya General Store. Without a clear and concise translation, no matter how beautiful and intricate the story, it would ultimately fall apart. Bett’s ability to recreate Keigo Higashino’s story in English is what allowed the story to be so thoroughly enjoyable. Without it, there would be no Namiya General Store for us to explore.

In Conclusion

The Miracles of the Namiya General Store is a curious book. It’s contents are both happy and sad, joyful and heartbreaking. Yet the story has been constructed with such care that it doesn’t become overwhelming. There are just so many discoveries waiting to be had. Both Higashino’s style and Bett’s smooth translation allow readers of any background to enjoy the wonders of the Namiya General Store. All you need to do is pick up the book and give it a try.