五十知天命

東山彰良不逃了
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2020 / 1月

文‧鄧慧純 圖‧莊坤儒


《逃亡作法TURD ON THE RUN》是東山彰良在日本文壇的出道作,2002年一出版即獲得日本寶島社第一屆「這本推理小說最厲害!」大獎銀獎、讀者獎;2015年,以家族故事為背景的創作《流》獲第153屆直木賞,此乃日本大眾文學獎最高榮譽。2017年,同樣以台灣為舞台的小說《我殺的人與殺我的人》,更一舉獲得織田作之助獎、讀賣文學獎、渡邊淳一文學獎三大文學獎。

作品的主題多與逃亡相關,東山彰良也曾回顧自己一生都在「逃」,在成名之前,必須兼差許多工作才得以養家活口。「逃」是逃避,是不得已,是不願面對,但換句話說,也是離開不想要的,追尋想要的。


 

東山彰良,本名王震緒,台灣出生,五歲隨父親移居日本。他的日文筆名藏著家族的地景:「東山」是祖父的出生地「山東」,「彰」則是母親昔日工作的地方「彰化」。

沒有不寫的選擇

去(2019)年年中採訪東山彰良時,他正處於「50知天命」的年紀。回憶當初提筆的契機,他坦言:「自己沒有不寫的選擇。」喜歡音樂和旅行的東山彰良,大學畢業後曾經當過一年的上班族,但朝九晚五並非他想像的未來,他逃入學術界,研讀經濟。但成了家、有了孩子,再加上博士論文的期限將屆,落在肩頭的壓力頗大,感覺自己人生失敗、一事無成。他記得2000年12月的某個夜晚,餵飽尚在襁褓中的小兒子,待家人睡著後,東山彰良對著電腦開始寫作,「就像腦子裡有一部電影,然後把它轉換成文字吐出來那種感覺。」即使到了早上,電腦當機讓他寫的東西一秒清空,但那一夜被療癒的感覺,讓他開始持續創作,三個月後第一部作品《逃亡作法TURD ON THE RUN》誕生。

《逃亡作法TURD ON THE RUN》在日本文壇初試啼聲即獲獎。文學評論家大森望評語:「結合昆汀‧塔倫提諾、蓋‧瑞奇、柯恩兄弟、三池崇史等人的黑色幽默敘事風格。」但之後的故事卻不如童話般的一帆風順。生活中的柴米油鹽醬醋茶種種現實,構成了經濟壓力,東山彰良如實道出:「我剛出道的時候,因為小說不暢銷,沒辦法光靠寫小說生活,所以我一直在大學當兼任的講師,教中文。」曾經有讀者詢問想寫小說(謀生)但擔心家人反對,他直白地說:「年輕人問我這種問題,就表示說他們還有其他的選擇。」東山彰良的寫作是被逼出來的,也因為這樣的境遇,他能讀出是不是被逼出來的作品,「我比較喜歡那種『不成為一名作家只有死路一條』的作品。」

身兼雙職的日子,持續到50歲這一年,孩子長大離巢了,讓他重新思索自己的生涯,「把自己再安排好,想做什麼,跟能做什麼。」他辭了在大學20多年的講師,成為專職的作家。

故事就是家族的延伸

東山彰良是繼邱永漢、陳舜臣之後,直木賞史上第三位獲獎的台裔作家。從小旅居日本,但他求學時期每年暑假都會回台灣,喜歡聽家中的長輩說以前的故事,祖父曾經歷過的戰爭年代,以及戰後那個外省、本省混雜的台灣,那些人、那些事都吸收成自己的養分,躺在記憶的盒子裡,等著被寫出來。

游移在台灣與日本之間,東山彰良的小說主題幾乎都有一個關鍵字「逃亡」。「可能是我自己的認同問題吧!」小時候在日本,大家覺得他是台灣人,在台灣時,又被認為是日本人,「沒有真正能屬於這個地方的感覺。我分析自己之所以喜歡旅行,因為在旅行的時候很自由,在旅行中,你不需要讓自己屬於在某一個地方。」

家族四散了,但他的家族臍帶仍然緊密地維繫著。訪談間,東山彰良說到自己的寫作習慣,「我的桌上有自己架的一個小檯子,上面放了外祖父、外祖母,還有過世家族長輩的照片。我每天早上會換水,會跟他們講幾句話;他們的牌位安置在哪裡都無所謂,我感覺他們一直跟我在一起。」

看不見的並不等於不存在,在同一個空間中,那些親人彷彿依舊在一旁細語、談笑著,無怪乎東山彰良喜歡南美文學,那種魔幻現實的風格,就像已經過世的人一直守護著,不曾離去。

出道之後,東山彰良一直想把小時候聽聞的家族故事寫下來,但筆力練了十多年,覺得成熟了才敢動筆,把腦中的故事鋪寫成《流》。以中華商場為背景,融入祖父輩的大時代和父親的成長故事。書中除記錄了1970~1990年代的台北,讓台灣的讀者讀來倍感熟悉與懷念;字句中還藏著他對那個時代的解讀。東山彰良的父親王孝廉,是知名的人類學家,年輕時曾以筆名「王璇」發表小說。他曾把故事完稿先給父母看,父母給出的評論:「裡頭沒有壞人也沒有好人,我們所認知的歷史和戰爭就是這麼一回事。」讀到結局,在那國共內戰的時代,一個人莫名其妙的成為國民黨或共產黨員,莫名其妙的持槍相向,這是一個說著大時代中的個人命運如草芥,只能隨時局的洪「流」漂沉的故事。

作家的簡與真

日本讀者或許是透過他比較冷硬派的推理作品《路傍》、《強尼兔之教父本色》等書認識東山彰良;台灣的讀者則被《流》、《我殺的人與殺我的人》等作品裡的「愛」而觸動。而寫出這樣不同風格作品的東山彰良,給筆者的感覺是一個「真」。

初見他時,輕便的衣著,腳踩著休閒鞋,與一般日本男性的正裝穿著迥然不同。不是迫切要展現善意,而是從從容容地一派日常。我們請他在街頭拍照,還要一邊躲著來往的汽車,他笑著說:「沒關係。」沒有智慧型手機,僅靠著市內電話和e-mail聯繫,他的生活簡單,一如他形容自己的個性,「我很難喜歡一件事情,可以對很多事情都無所謂,可是一旦喜歡上了,就會一直喜歡下去。」

小酌是另一種興趣,他還透露自己是Tequila的品酒師。東山彰良帶我們到平日小憩的酒吧,下午三點開門,寫稿累了,他會走進去點一杯啤酒,和酒保聊聊天,不會待晚,只因為他喜歡人少點的地方。

寫作可以把過往很多無用的經驗拿來運用,他譬喻說,就像你走路撿到十塊錢,但是不好意思直接彎下腰撿,就先用腳踩住,再若無其事的蹲下來,這些沒有用的記憶,會成為小說中畫龍點睛的細節,聽著他舉例,恍然地明白他小說劇情中許多的黑色幽默和對白是從哪來的。

成長的過程一直都是乖乖牌的學生,但東山彰良卻在小說中寫下青少年逞兇鬥狠、虛張聲勢,為死黨哥兒們奮不顧身的情誼。《流》書中寫著主角葉秋生和小混混雷威的對峙。他目露的凶光似乎在對我說:「退後,拜託你趕快退後,不要害我變成殺人兇手!」看到他的雙眼,我知道我們都正為了自己的未來,努力設法度過眼前這一關。

《我殺的人與殺我的人》,寫四個男孩結伴的成長故事,因為一樁意外,導致其中一人變成連續殺人犯,即將面臨死刑,要怎麼救回當年的同伴,「至少讓我能夠在回憶中,陪你到最後一刻。」東山彰良藉由主人公口中說出的,不是大忠大義,而是14、15歲青少年、在人生最精華時期結交換帖的情感。

「算是彌補年輕時候沒有學壞的遺憾,」聽到這兒讓人愣住、且捏把冷汗,我們想像面前這斯文的人變成小混混的樣子,「這是每個男孩子應該都有這種感覺吧!」他趕緊補充說明。

50歲男人的自由

東山彰良的發跡,並非人生勝利組的歷程,在日本這個汲汲於功成名就的社會,他解釋說:「我對自己的評價一直沒有太高。我覺得作為一名作家不是那麼了不起的事情,我只會這樣子,所以我才在寫。」「也因為對自己很失望,所以能成為一名作家,才有寫東西的動力跟動機。」

已是知天命的年紀,他排除掉雜務,在人生清單上列出真正想做的事情。音樂和旅行還是生活的興趣,但與年輕時的心境已大大不同,「年輕的時候,旅行好像有一個隱形的對手,一直在跟他競爭,要比他走得遠,或者比他看得多,感覺一直在跟別人比賽。」可是年紀大了就不這樣了,不必遠行,在近處也能有旅行的感覺。受《朝日新聞》之邀,去年初他開設了《東山彰良のTurn!Turn!Turn!》專欄,以遊記的形式,用文字帶著讀者走訪他的出生地台灣,曾經工作過的東京,住宿在飯田橋附近,成長的室見地區,曾經短暫停留的廣島,像是過往人生的一個巡禮,隨興所至。

數年前開始在福岡RKB電台主持節目,在節目中介紹文學,朗讀讀者的投稿,他再如DJ挑選音樂播放。最近東山彰良買了一把小吉他,每天練習,但高興就可以,不要那麼辛苦了。

「可能是人老了吧!而且我知道,音樂對我來說,是讓我享受,讓我好玩,我知道我自己現在是作家,我喜歡寫小說,這個方向是我很在意去追求的,其他的事情好像就無所謂了。」年逾50的東山彰良,或許在小說中仍繼續他的逃亡,但現實生活中,他不逃了,寫作就是他的天命。

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EN

Knowing the Biddings of Heaven

Akira Higashiyama Is Done Fleeing

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Kent Chuang /tr. by David Mayer

Akira Higashiyama made a big splash with his very first novel, Turd on the Run, winning the grand silver and reader’s choice awards as part of the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! (“This Mystery Novel Is Excellent!”) awards that were handed out by Japan’s Takarajimasha publishing house in 2002. Then in 2015 he won the Naoki Prize for the novel Ryu, in which much of the plot draws on the author’s own family history. The Naoki Prize is recognized as the highest honor in the world of popular Japanese literature. And in 2017 his Boku ga Koroshita Hito to Boku o Koroshita Hito (“The Ones I Killed and the Ones Who Killed Me”) took three major awards—the Oda Sakunosuke Prize, the Yomiuri Prize for Literature, and the Watanabe Junichi Literary Prize. Just like Turd on the Run, the 2017 novel featured a story set in Taiwan.

Higashiyama’s stories generally revolve around the theme of “escape” or “flight.” Indeed, he feels that his own life story is one of “flight.” Before achieving fame, he took all sorts of side jobs to keep food on the table for his family. “Flight”—fleeing—is what one does to escape. It may be forced upon you, or it may be that you’ve got a problem you’re not willing to face. In any case, it’s about leaving behind what you don’t want, and pursuing what you do want.


 

Akira Higashiyama is the Japanese pen name of Wang Zhenxu, who was born in Taiwan before moving with his family to Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan’s Kyushu Region at age five. His pen name reflects his family background: When you take the characters for higashi (東) and yama (山) and reverse them, you get 山東, i.e. Shandong, the province in China where his grandfather was born. The 彰 in “Akira” (彰良), meanwhile, alludes to Taiwan’s Changhua (彰化), where his mother once worked.

Not writing not an option

I interviewed Higashiyama in 2019, the year after he turned 50, the age that Confucius famously described as the time at which he “knew what were the biddings of heaven.” Recalling what it was like when he first started writing, Higashiyama says: “Not writing was not an option.” He held an office job for the first year after university graduation, but the nine-to-five routine was not the future he had in mind, so he fled back into academia to continue his study of economics. However, the pressures of marriage, two children, and a doctoral dissertation deadline got him to feeling like a complete failure. One December evening in 2000, after feeding his infant son and waiting for the family to fall off to sleep, Higashiyama sat down at the computer and started writing. Come morning, the computer crashed and everything he’d written was lost, but the sense of healing in the night’s activity had hooked him, and he began writing regularly. Three months later his first novel, Turd on the Run, was born.

But the story from that point on was not as simple as “happy ever after.” Higashiyama is frank about the difficulties: “When I first started writing, sales were slow and I couldn’t make a living on my novels alone, so I taught Chinese part-time at university.” His writings had been forced out of him, and this enables him to recog­nize in the works of other writers the signs that they too have no choice. “I prefer it when a piece of writing shows that the author has a ‘become a writer or die trying’ sort of ­attitude.”

Higashiyama moonlighted to make ends meet all the way to age 50, by which time both of his kids had left home for school. The time had come for him to rethink his life, so he quit the university teaching that he’d been doing for over 20 years to concentrate full-time on his writing.

Stories as an extension of the family

Higashiyama is the third Taiwanese author to win the Naoki Prize, after Eikan Kyū (Qiu Yonghan, 1924-2012) and Chin Shunshin (Chen Shunchen, 1924-2015). Although he moved to Japan at a very young age, during his school years Higashiyama spent each summer in Taiwan. He liked listening to the stories of the family’s elders. His grandfather had lived through times of war and found a way to get by in a Taiwan riven by tensions between mainland Chinese newcomers and native Taiwanese.

Because Higashiyama spent so much time shuttling back and forth between Taiwan and Japan, “flight” natur­ally became something of a keyword in almost all of his novels. “Maybe all the flight in my life stems from my own identity problem.” As a kid in Japan, everyone regarded him as Taiwanese, but then in Taiwan everyone regarded him as Japanese. “I could never feel like I truly belonged in any single place. I’ve thought about why I should like traveling so much, and I think it’s because when you’re traveling you don’t need to make yourself belong to any particular place.”

Yes, his family may have been scattered to the four winds, but everyone has remained connected by an invisible umbilical cord. During our interview, Higashiyama described his writing routine: “I’ve installed a little raised shelf on my desk, on top of which I’ve put photographs of my maternal grandfather, my maternal grandmother, and some other deceased relatives. Every morning I change the water in the offering cup and say a few words to them. I feel like they’re always with me.”

As a full-time writer Higashiyama matured gradu­ally in his craft, and after more than a decade strung together some of his stories into a novel titled Ryu. Set in and around the old Chunghwa Market area, the work features tales of people growing up in Taipei during his parents’ and grandparents’ generations. By chronicling the Taipei of the 1970s through the 1990s, Higashiyama triggers strong feelings of recognition and nostalgia among readers in Taiwan even as he offers his own take on those years. Higashiyama’s father Wang Xiaolian is a noted anthropologist who published novels as a young man under the pen name of Wang Xuan. Higashiyama once showed the completed manuscript for Ryu to his parents, who commented: “There are no good guys or bad guys in this story. And that exactly reflects history and war as we have known them.” He describes how, in those years of civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, people could fall in with one side or the other through pure happenstance, and again through willy-nilly circumstance end up going at each other with guns blazing. What he describes is how very little value attaches to a person’s existence in an age of great tumult. The tale he spins is one of people bobbing along in the raging “current” (ryu) of history.

An author’s authenticity

Japanese readers may be most familiar with the hard-boiled detective style that Higashiyama employs in works like On the Roadside and Johnny the Rabbit, but readers in Taiwan have been touched more by the love stories in works like Ryu and The Ones I Killed and the Ones Who Killed Me. Speaking for myself, an author capable of writing in such sharply contrasting styles, as Higashiyama does, impresses me as genuine.

When I first saw him, with his casual way of dressing, the impression I got was not of a person anxious to give off a “nice guy” image, but of someone who simply went about his daily affairs in a very relaxed mood. When we asked him to pose for a few street photos, he had to dodge traffic, but simply laughed it off: “No problem!” He doesn’t own a smartphone, but relies on a landline and email to communicate with people. His life is as simple as his personality. He says of himself: “I can be indifferent to all sorts of things, but once I take a fancy to something, it’s always going to be real special to me.”

Higashiyama was always a nice, well-behaved kid, yet in his novels he has often written about fighting and blustering youths who put their bodies on the line in defense of their buddies. An episode in Ryu describes a conflict between the protagonist Ye Qiusheng and a young tough named Lei Wei. Higashiyama writes in the novel: “The fierce look in Lei’s eyes seemed to say to me: ‘Back off. I’m asking you to back off. Don’t make me become a killer!’ When I looked into his eyes, I realized we were both just trying to somehow get through the situation at hand, for the sake of our futures.”

In The Ones I Killed and the Ones Who Killed Me, Higashiyama tells of how four boys become friends and grow up together. Due to an accident, one of them becomes a serial killer. As the time for his execution draws near, his friends wonder how they might be able to save their childhood friend. One of them thinks to himself: “Even if only in memory, let me accompany you till the very last second.” What Higashiyama describes in the words of his protagonists is not issues of soaring adult loyalty and righteous­ness, but the fierce blood-brother ties of 14- and 15-year-old boys in the flower of their youth.

I was dumbfounded and somewhat horrified when the mild-mannered Higashiyama said: “I guess I’m just making up for the fact I never went bad as a kid.” Seeing my reaction, he was quick to add: “I think any boy ought to feel that same way!”

Freedom at 50

The course of Higashiyama’s career has been anything but plain sailing in a society like Japan’s, where people are under immense pressure to succeed. He confides: “I’ve never been much satisfied with myself. I’ve never felt that being a writer was any big accomplishment. I can’t be anyone other than who I am. That’s the only reason I write.”

Now in his fifties, Higashiyama has worked out a bucket list for himself. He remains as interested in music and traveling as ever, but his frame of mind is very different now. “When I was young, it was as if there was an invisible opponent that was always competing with me. I felt the need to travel farther than him, or to see more than him.” But things have changed as he’s grown older. Early last year, at the invitation of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, he began writing a column—“Akira­ Higashi­yama’s Turn! Turn! Turn!”—as a sort of travelogue in which he guides readers on an imaginary trip through the places of his life, including Taiwan (where he grew up), Tokyo (where he once worked), the Iidabashi area in Tokyo (where he lived for a time), the Muromi area in Fukuoka (where he spent much of his childhood), and Hiroshima (where he once stayed for a short time).

Higashiyama recently bought a small guitar and practices on it every day, but it’s just for fun. He’s not putting any pressure on himself.

“Maybe it’s because I’ve grown old. And anyway, I realize that music is just a source of enjoyment for me. I know I’m a writer. I like writing novels. That’s what I care about doing. Everything else is no big deal.” Now that he’s in his fifties, perhaps it is in his novels where Higashiyama continues to engage in flight. But in his real life, he’s not fleeing from anything. Writing is what heaven bids him to do.

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