Idol, Burning by Rin Usami (transl Asa Yoneda): ‘My life without him was only an afterlife’  

Idol Burning by Rin Usami I’ve long felt uneasy about the relationship between celebrities and the public, not least the way the media refers to them by their first name as if we know them intimately. It’s particularly painful when the celebrity in question was a child star. Rin Usami’s Idol, Burning examines that relationship through a young girl who devotes her entire life to her ‘oshi’ whose reputation is rubbished when he allegedly assaults a fan.

I knew I could never find another oshi. Masaki would always be my one and only. He alone moved me, spoke to me, accepted me.

Sixteen-year-old Akari first saw the boy who became her idol when she was only four and he was twelve performing in Peter Pan. Masaki has spent his entire life in the spotlight, signed up to an agency when he was only three months old. He’s now the member of a boy band, regularly winning popularity polls. Akari spends her life recording his every utterance, writing blog posts about him and spending all of her earnings from her waitressing job on Masaki-themed merchandise. She’s an awkward teenager, clumsy and poor at school, ill at ease with her body and often in the school infirmary. Her father has been posted overseas while her mother has stayed in Japan at the insistence of her sick grandmother. While her sister knuckles down, studying for university, Akari continues to spend her time meticulously documenting her idol, eventually dropping out of school, exasperating her family until she’s forced to face the fact of Masaki’s exit from public life and find a reason to live.

Sighs settled over the living room, and sobs soaked into the gaps between floorboards and into the wood grain of the wardrobes.  

In this brief, strikingly written, powerful piece of fiction, Usami explores the world of obsessive fandom through Akari and the consequences of flaming those who live their lives in the public eye which, as she points out in her Afterword, affects not just them but their friends and family. Akari takes us into her claustrophobic world, poring over her oshi’s life trying to see the world through his eyes, boosting his popularity whenever she can by buying voting rights through the band’s merchandise. There’s a great deal of money to be made from such devotion: Akari’s belongings consist almost entirely of DVDs, CDs, posters and clothing bearing Masaki’s name. It’s a world she’s built for herself, both a refuge from the unhappiness of her life and a way of not facing the reality of the future. Usami took me into a world I know little about and yet some aspects of it were very familiar. Being shot down in flames is an occupational hazard for the famous but they’re far from the only ones affected. Vilification of celebrities is an easy win for the media and can make the rest of us feel pleasingly righteous, but it has consequences, and we all play our part in them.

Canongate Books: Edinburgh 9781838856120 144 pages Paperback (Read via NetGalley)

12 thoughts on “Idol, Burning by Rin Usami (transl Asa Yoneda): ‘My life without him was only an afterlife’  ”

  1. Wonderful review, and about an theme one doesn’t end up thinking about much but one that does indeed have wider impact than one sees at first glance. Even for the celebrity themselves, moving between the extremes adulation and vilification can’t be the pleasantest of experiences either, however much deserved or not.

  2. Yes, it’s a full-time occupation and a really, really interesting look at a subject that we don’t seem to take seriously but can clearly lead to extreme behaviour (Jodie Foster/John Lennon etc.)

  3. I bought this on the strength of your preview the other month and am now wondering if I can manage to squeeze it in before the end of Novellas in Translation Week! Sounds fantastic. The idea of fame terrifies me.

  4. As you say, this has long been an issue but it seems even more pressing these days with the growth of social media. I have to agree with other comments that I do not understand the lure of fame at all – I’d hate it!

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