Thursday, Jul. 03, 2008

The Psychotic Japanese Mastermind

"Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a nameless Monster. He was dying to have a name, so the Monster made up his mind to set out on a journey to look for one." And so, in a way, begins my guiltiest pleasure of all: Monster by Naoki Urasawa.

Monster is an 18-volume comic book (take that, Dickens), the story of Dr. Tenma, a brilliant, idealistic brain surgeon (how's that for a character?) who risks his career and engagement to save the life of an enigmatic young boy named Johan. Johan, natch, turns out to have been programmed from birth by a secret society to be the next Adolf Hitler (or perhaps the Devil himself) and is one of the weirdest, most attractive psychotic masterminds in literature. Forget Professor Moriarty or Hannibal Lecter; Johan could crumble them both for breakfast.

Good Dr. Tenma's epic quest to bring Johan to justice involves bodies galore, assassins, cross-dressing, Nazi experiments, the Czech secret service, Johan's beautiful twin sister, a vindictive ex-fiancee with a drinking problem, a Javert-like inspector who cannot forget anything and one of the creepiest children's books you'll ever read. Urasawa is a national treasure in Japan, and if you ain't afraid of picture books, you'll see why.

For those of you who like your suspense red-hot but with a beautiful beating heart, Monster is for you. "At last [the Monster] had found a name, but there was no longer anyone around to call him by it."

Díaz won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao