by Kanae Minato


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Penance by Kanae Minato

A chilling Japanese psychological thriller about four women, forever connected by one horrible day in their childhood--fifteen years later, someone wants to make sure they never forget.

Finalist for the 2018 EDGAR AWARD
for Best Paperback Original

"As ethereal and literary as it is a sharp, tight crime novel." --A Literary Hub Best Crime Book of the Year

When they were girls, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into leaving their friend Emily with a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurred: Emily was found murdered hours later.

The four friends were never able to describe the stranger to the police; the killer's trail went cold. Asako, the bereaved mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will be the ones to pay for her daughter's murder...

Like Confessions, Kanae Minato's award-winning, internationally bestselling debut, PENANCE is a dark tale of revenge and psychological drama that will leave readers breathless.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316349154
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 460,566
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kanae Minato is an award-winning, internationally bestselling novelist and former home economics teacher and housewife who wrote her first novel between household chores. Minato lives in Japan.

Read an Excerpt


By Kanae Minato, Philip Gabriel

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2012 Kanae Minato
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-34915-4


French Doll

Dear Asako,

Thank you so much for attending my wedding the other day.

I was worried all through the ceremony that when you saw the crowd of my relatives who'd come from that country town you'd remember the events that took place back then, back in that town, and be upset. They never seem aware of how rude they are sometimes.

The only good thing about that town I grew up in is the sparkling clean air. The first time I realized this — that besides the clean air the town had little else to recommend it — was seven years ago, after I'd graduated from high school and gone on to a women's college in Tokyo.

I lived in the college dorm for four years. When I told my parents I wanted to go to Tokyo for college, both of them were dead set against it.

Some lowlife might trick you, they argued, and force you into prostitution. Then what? What'll you do if you get hooked on drugs? Or get killed?

You were raised in the city, Asako, so I'm sure you'll laugh when you read this, wondering what could possibly lead them to these ideas.

"You watch too much 24 City," I countered, naming one of my parents' favorite TV shows, but the truth is I'd often imagined the same kind of frightening scenario. Still, I desperately wanted to go to Tokyo.

"What's so special about Tokyo?" my father shot back. "There are other colleges in our prefecture that offer the major you're interested in. If it's too much to commute to school from home, apartments are cheaper here. And if anything happens, you can always come home. We can all rest easy."

"Rest easy? Are you kidding? You're the ones who know best how petrified I've been the last eight years living here."

Once I said this, they stopped their objections. They'd allow me to go to Tokyo, but on one condition: that I didn't live alone in an apartment, but in the dorm. I was fine with that.

I'd never been to Tokyo in my life and found it a totally different world. When I got off the Shinkansen train the first time, the station was packed — people as far as the eye could see. There were probably more people in the station alone than in the whole town I'd just come from. But what surprised me even more was how people managed to walk without bumping into each other. Even as I wandered around, stopping to check the signs to take the subway, I was able to arrive at my destination without colliding with anyone.

I was surprised, too, when I got on the subway. Passengers hardly ever talked to each other, even when they'd gotten on board with others. Occasionally I'd hear someone laugh or people talking, but those were usually foreigners, not Japanese.

Until junior high I'd walked to school every day, then ridden a bicycle, so the only time I'd taken a train was a couple of times a year when I went with friends or family to a neighboring town to a department store or shopping mall. During the hour-long ride we never stopped talking.

What should I buy? It's their birthday next month so I should get them something. What should we have for lunch? McDonald's or KFC? ... The way we acted — talking the entire way — wasn't so outlandish, I don't think. There were lots of people talking and laughing throughout the train, and nobody objected, so I always thought that was how you acted on trains.

It suddenly struck me that Tokyo residents don't notice their surroundings. They have no interest in the people around them. As long as the person sitting next to them isn't bothering them, they couldn't care less. Not a speck of interest in the title of the book the person across the aisle from them is reading. Even if the person standing right in front of them is carrying an expensive designer bag, nobody notices.

Before I realized it, I was crying. People might think I'm homesick, I thought, a hick lugging a huge bag around, sitting there blubbering. Embarrassed, I wiped away the tears, glancing nervously around me, but not a single person was looking at me.

Right then it struck me: Tokyo was a more wonderful place than I'd ever imagined.

I didn't come to Tokyo for the upscale shopping or all the great places to have fun at. What I wanted was to melt into the crowds of people who didn't know about my past, and vanish.

More precisely, because I'd witnessed a murder, and the person who committed it had not been caught, what I wanted more than anything was to disappear from his radar forever.

Four of us shared a dorm room, all from rural places far from Tokyo, and the first day in the dorm we vied with each other in bragging about our hometowns. My place has the most delicious udon noodles, one said proudly, mine has a hot springs, mine has a famous Major League Baseball player who lives near my parents' house, said another. That sort of thing. The other three girls were from the countryside, but at least I'd heard of the towns they came from.

But when I told them the name of my town, none of them even knew which prefecture it was in.

"What kind of place is it?" they asked, and I answered: "A place where the air is sparkling clean." I know you of all people would understand this, Asako, that I wasn't just saying this because I had nothing else to be proud of.

I'd been born in that rural town and breathed the air there every day without ever giving it a second thought. But the first time I became aware that the air was so very pure and fresh was just after I entered fourth grade, the spring of the year the murder took place.

One day our social studies teacher, Ms. Sawada, told us, "You all live in the place with the cleanest air in all of Japan. Do you know why I can say that? Precision instruments used in hospitals and research have to be manufactured in a completely dust-free environment. That's why they build factories that make these instruments in places where the air is pure. And this year a new factory was built here by Adachi Manufacturing Company. That the top precision instrument maker in Japan built a factory here means this town was chosen because it has the cleanest air in the whole country. You should all be very proud of living in this wonderful town."

After class we asked Emily if what the teacher said was true.

"Papa said the same thing," she replied.

That decided it. Since Emily said so, we knew our town really did have clean, pure air. We didn't believe it because her father, with his fierce look and glaring eyes, was some higher-up in Adachi Manufacturing. We believed it because he was from Tokyo.

The town didn't have a single mini-mart back then, but none of us kids minded. We accepted things the way they were. We might see commercials on TV for Barbie dolls, but we'd never actually laid eyes on any so we didn't particularly want one. Far more precious to us were the fancy French dolls that people in town proudly displayed in their living rooms.

Still, after the new factory came, a strange new sensation started to arise among us. From Emily and the other transfer students from Tokyo, we started to detect that the lifestyle we'd always thought was perfectly normal was, in fact, inconvenient and behind the times.

Everything about these new residents' lives was different, starting with where they lived. After Adachi Manufacturing came to town, the company built an apartment building for employees, the first building ever in town over five stories tall. It was designed to harmonize with the surroundings, but for us it rose up like a castle in some far-off land.

One day Emily invited some of the girls in her class who lived in the West District part of town, where the building was, to her apartment on the top, the seventh, floor. The night before, I was so excited I couldn't sleep.

Four of us were invited to her place: me, Maki, Yuka, and Akiko, all friends from long ago, raised in the same neighborhood.

When we entered Emily's apartment it felt like stepping into a foreign land. The open floor plan was the first surprise. We had no concept at the time of an LDK — a combined great room type of living-dining-kitchen space — and were surprised that the places where you watched TV and cooked and ate were all a single unit, with no walls separating them.

We were served English tea in teacups we kids would never have been allowed to touch if they were in our house, with a matching teapot, and on matching plates were tarts with a variety of different fruits I'd never seen before. The strawberries were the only fruit I recognized. I stuffed myself, enraptured, but felt as if something wasn't quite right.

After eating we decided to play dolls and Emily brought out a Barbie doll and a plastic, heart-shaped dress case from her room. The Barbie doll was dressed exactly as Emily was that day.

"There's a shop in Shibuya that sells the same outfits that Barbie wears, and my parents bought it for me for my birthday last year. Right, Mama?"

All I wanted at this point was to get out of there.

Right then one of the other girls said, "Emily, could you show us your family's French doll?"

"What's that?" Emily shot us a blank stare.

Emily didn't own a French doll. And she had no idea what we were talking about. I'd been feeling deflated, but hearing this, I perked up. It was only natural that Emily didn't know about French dolls. In the city they were an obsolete status symbol.

The old Japanese-style wooden homes around our town all had one thing in common. The room closest to the front door, a sitting room, was done in Western style and was sure to have a chandelier and a French doll inside a glass display case. People had owned French dolls for ages, but about a month before Emily moved to town it suddenly became popular for the local girls to go from house to house to admire the different dolls.

At first we just went to friends' houses, but soon we started dropping by other people's houses in the neighborhood. It was a rural town and we knew almost everyone by sight, and the room was right next to the entrance, so hardly anybody turned us down.

Before long we began compiling Doll Memos, as we called them, ranking the French dolls we'd seen. Back then kids couldn't snap photos easily like now, so we drew pictures of the dolls in notebooks with colored pencils.

Mostly we ranked them according to how pretty the dresses were, but I liked looking at the dolls' faces. I felt as if the dolls people chose reflected their personalities, and the faces of the dolls seemed to resemble the faces of the mother and kids in the family.

Emily said she wanted to see some French dolls, so we took her on a tour of the ten best in our rankings. Emily was sure that the other children in her building hadn't seen French dolls before either, so she invited a few to join her and we all trooped off to various homes in town along with children whose grades and names we didn't even know. For some reason a few boys tagged along, too.

The person in the first house we visited said, "Oh, so you're on the French Doll Tour?" We liked the term so much, that's what we dubbed our outing that day.

The French doll in my house was ranked number two on the list. The neckline and hem of the pink dress were fringed with soft, pure-white feathers, with large purple roses adorning the shoulders and waist. But what I really liked was how the doll's face looked a bit like mine. I'd added a small mole under the right eye, like I have, with Magic Marker, which upset my mother. I also liked that it wasn't clear how old the doll was supposed to be, whether it was a child or an adult.

"Isn't it great?" I boasted, but the city kids had already lost interest, and I remember being bitterly disappointed.

After we'd visited the last home Emily said, "I guess I like Barbie dolls better after all." I think she said it innocently enough, but that one statement from her was all it took for those French dolls, up till now the most radiant things in our lives, to suddenly appear worthless. After that day we stopped playing with French dolls, and my Doll Memo disappeared into the back of a drawer.

But three months later the words French doll were on everyone's lips in town, because of the so-called French Doll Robbery. I wonder how much you know about this incident, Asako.

At the end of July, on the evening of the summer festival, French dolls were stolen from five houses in town, my house included. There was no other damage to the houses, and no money stolen. Just the French dolls missing from their glass display cases. A strange affair all around.

The festival was held on the grounds of the civic center on the outskirts of town, with the Obon dances starting around 6 p.m., a karaoke contest at nine, and then the whole event winding up at 11 p.m. The neighborhood association provided watermelons, ice cream, somen noodles, and beer free of charge, and there were a few stalls selling shaved ice and cotton candy. It was a big event for the town.

The homes the French dolls were stolen from, including mine, had two things in common. First, the whole family was out at the festival, and second, none of the houses had locked their front doors. Most houses in town were like that at the time, I think. When people were asked to deliver something to another house, they would just open the front door when no one was at home and place the package inside. It's just what people did.

Since we'd had our little French Doll Tour, the police right away pegged it as a prank by children, but the perpetrator and the dolls were never found, and eventually it was shelved as some unexplained, odd event on the night of the festival.

I remember my father getting angry with me: "It's because you kids had that tour, that's why. Some child who didn't have a French doll at home got jealous and stole them."

Our summer vacation started with that incident, but still we went out every day, from morning to evening, to play. We especially liked the pool at our elementary school. We'd spend the morning at one of our houses doing our summer homework assignments, then go to the pool in the afternoon, and even after the pool closed at four we'd stick around the school grounds playing until it got dark.

Nowadays even rural elementary schools have put in place various crime prevention measures, not allowing anyone, even kids, onto the grounds on days when there's no school, but back then we could play until dark and no one said a word.

Sometimes, even, if we went back home before "Greensleeves" started playing over the town PA system, announcing that it was 6 p.m., our parents would ask what was wrong, whether we'd quarreled with our friends.

Right after the murder that day, and many times afterward, I told everything, all I could possibly recall about it, to the police, to teachers at school, to my parents, to the parents of the other children, and to you, Asako, and your husband. But here I'd like to write down the events one more time, in the order they occurred. For what will probably be the very last time ...

On that day, the evening of August fourteenth, a lot of the kids we usually played with had gone to relatives' houses for the Obon holiday, or had relatives visiting theirs, so it was just five of us playing in the school grounds — me, Maki, Yuka and Akiko, and Emily.

The four of us from town either lived with our grandparents, or our grandparents and relatives lived in town, so Obon wasn't a particularly special day for us and we went out to play like always.

Most of the people from the Adachi factory who'd moved here from Tokyo were out of town for the holiday. Emily, though, was still in town because her father worked through the holiday, she told us that day. Later, at the end of August, they were going to take a family vacation to Guam.

The French Doll Tour had introduced a little awkwardness into our relationship with Emily, but that soon passed and we were all friends again. One reason may have been Emily's enthusiasm for playing Explorers, which was popular then.

The pool was closed through the Obon holiday, so we played volleyball in a corner of the school grounds, in the shade next to the gym. All we did was form a circle and pass the ball back and forth, but we were really into it, aiming to pass the ball a hundred times without missing.

That's when that man appeared.

"Hello there, do you girls have a second?" we heard a voice ask.

A gray work shirt with yellowish-green tinge, work pants, a white towel wrapped around his head.

The sudden voice threw Yuka, who was out of form that day, and she missed a pass. The man picked up the ball, which had rolled toward him, and came over to us. Smiling broadly, he said the following quite clearly:

"I'm here to check the ventilation fan for the changing rooms in the pool, but I totally forgot to bring a ladder. We just need to tighten a few screws, so could one of you ride piggyback on my shoulders and help out?"

Nowadays elementary school pupils would have been on their guard in a situation like this. Schools are not necessarily seen as safe places. If we had been aware of that, I wonder if we would have avoided what happened. Maybe we should have been taught to scream and run away if a stranger talked to us?

In our small, rural town, though, the most we'd been warned was not to get in a stranger's car if he told us he'd give us gum or candy, or told us our parents were sick and he'd take us to them.


Excerpted from Penance by Kanae Minato, Philip Gabriel. Copyright © 2012 Kanae Minato. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Translator's note,
: French Doll,
: An Unscheduled PTA Meeting,
: The Bear Siblings,
: Ten Months and Ten Days,
: Penance,
: The Final Chapter,
About the Author,
Also by Kanae Minato,

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Penance 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and presumably well translated. Enjoyed being immersed into such a diffferent world - didn't enjoy so much the not particularly believable melodrama and the very unbelievable coincidence at the end.