Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hell (Yasutaka Tsutsui)

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance of mine asked about my views on heaven, hell, afterlife (and many more which included religion) and I went dumbstruck. First, I honestly didn't see it coming. And I thought it was incredibly rude and offensive to bring up anything sensitive and not to mention, personal over a casual dinner date. Second, I never gave a damn thought on those mentioned. So I picked up Hell (which I stumbled across in the library) to read. 

So what is hell like in this novel?
" In Hell it was possible to view moments in another person's life simply by staring at them. There were no-comic-book-style balloons above their head to indicate what they were thinking, nor was it a form of mental telepathy. Instead, the truth was revealed through a kind of vision that crept up from the back of one's mind. " 
" Had the familiar looking man been right? Was Hell really just a place without God? Why did everything for which Takeshi had worked so hard now seem silly? Why did everything he suffer for and agonized over in his youth now seem laughable? Everyone who came to Hell seemed to feel the same way, and not just about their own lives. Everything that had happened in the real world - everything that must still be happening there - seemed utterly insignificant. Could that be the true nature of Hell? To make people forget their attachments to their previous lives? Was that the real reason for Hell's existence? "
Takeshi sees a number of familiar faces in Hell after his death. No matter how horribly he and these people have died, they are in immortal form. People are indifferent in attitudes and emotions even after reading each other's minds and revisiting the darker details of their formal lives. No jealousy, anger or hatred despite the betrayal, infidelity, revenge and other forms of harm human beings are capable of inflicting upon others. The resignation, the feeling of release from the affairs of the real world explains about the tranquility that everything they cared and all the desires are gone. Well, Hell does sound like a great place, no? 

The only problem I have is there are quite many characters entangled in this story with each of them connects to one another in one way or another. The shifting focus from one character to another makes it hard for me to follow so I have to refer back from time to time to keep track of them all. One thing if these characters are being freed from all worldly desires which include curiosity, then why are they still persistently wondering about questions such as 1) is it possible for someone to turn senile after coming to Hell?, 2) who is in charge as there has got to be some kind of system in place for managing things, even in Hell, 3) what could be the fate that awaits them when they leave Hell to move on? nothingness or heaven? and many more. 

Overall, it is dreamlike and funny, especially on how people view and react to death when it is approaching. I myself have come close to death once - nearly drowned at the age of 12. The only things I could think about at that time (which I still recall vividly until today) are how regretful I was for not listening to my parents (as they forbade me to play with water on that trip) and how sorry I was if I were to cause them sorrow.
" He fell to the floor, gasping, his mind growing dim. He was reaching the point of no return. But he'd be laughing stock, dying like this! Finally, he yanked out his dentures. The mochi stuck to the false teeth and slithered back up his throat as he pulled out of his mouth. 

How many times had he managed to cheat death? And how many more times would he do so before the end finally came? If he were younger, he might have rejoiced at having survived, but age had changed him. He was tired. " 

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