KAI by Derek Vasconi

I was recently contacted by Derek Vasconi to review his book KAI. Derek managed to lure me in with our shared interest for Haruki Murakami, as well as this very intriguing trailer for his book:

Twenty-Two year old Seul Bi Rissiello lives alone in Evanston, Illinois, where she works as a mental health counselor and is plagued by memories of her parents dying when she was twelve. In Hiroshima, thirteen year old Satsuki Takamoto is a loner who spends her time daydreaming about how she will finally have a friend when her expectant mother gives birth to her sister. When tragedy strikes, one of these girls will devote her existence to destroying the world, while the other will devolve into a world of mental and physical torture from a monstrous, seemingly purposeless assailant. And that’s just the beginning.

Right from the very first few chapters of KAI, I could see how Haruki Murakami had influenced Derek. The style immediately reminded me of 1Q84, one of my all time favourite Murakami. Like Murakami, Derek manages to create a very blurry line between what is real and what isn’t. The detailed descriptions and graphic imagery really helps create the world both Satsuki and Seul Bi live in, and the difficulties they go through. If you’re squeamish though, be warned, as some scenes in the book can be quite difficult to stomach.

Each chapter of the book alternates between our two main characters. Although their lives couldn’t be more different, something connects these two, and it is this suspense that really gets you hooked as a reader. As you read, you start to see how these parallel stories could possibly be linked. However, it’s not till you get to the very surprising and explosive ending that you begin to understand. And in true Japanese fashion, Derek leaves us wanting more at the end.

After finishing KAI, I asked Derek a few questions about the book and his connection to Japan:

First of all, what (or who) inspired you to write KAI?

Well, it was a few years after I had left the band I was in, and I wanted to do something creative in which I had only myself to depend on. So writing seemed like a good fit for me, especially since I have always been praised for my writing. I used to put up essays on my band’s website and would often get a lot of feedback about them from people who came to watch us play. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to write a book, but didn’t know what I would write, until one day I started thinking about all the people in my life that I’ve lost. I realized how painful it’s been for me to lose certain people in my life, and I began to think about a way I could write about that in which it wouldn’t be corny, or cheesy, or a rehash of what other writers ten times greater than me have written before.
At the same time I was thinking about this, I had decided to go to Japan. And I started thinking about this idea of a young girl from Japan who wanted to harness the destructive power of creation to overcome the loss in her life. So I went and lived in Hiroshima for a month and tried to absorb the culture there, as well as seek out the memories of what happened there several decades ago. I mean, if you think about it, Hiroshima is the ultimate symbol for the creative power of destruction, isn’t it?
The story came along pretty quickly after that, as everything began to fall into place. I came back from Japan and moved to Chicago, where I began working as a mental health counselor, and that was what started to form the second story in KAI. Again, things just began lining up, and if you read through KAI carefully, you’ll see that everything that happens in the Japanese narrative is reflected or relates to everything that happens in the American narrative. And I really loved the idea that what we do in this life affects others, even when we use our minds to create things that destroy other things. That’s the basis for KAI.

How do you feel your favourite authors have influenced your writing?

Well, Haruki Murakami is my biggest inspiration as a writer, and you could say he’s influenced me completely. In his world, people often cross over into a kind of magical realism that is completely accepted and for me, as a reader, easy to embrace. I love that his books on the surface might not make all that much sense, but when you read them over and over again, you’ll see there are so many great truths in everything he writes about that you can’t help but feel inspired. IQ84 is my favorite book of all time, and KAI definitely borrows from some of that story, but I also combine what Murakami writes about with some of my other favorite authors, like Natsuo Kirino, Ryu Murakami, and Stephen King. Especially King, being that when I read his books, I feel like somebody is having a conversation with me the whole time. I don’t feel like I’m reading anything at all, and with KAI, as well as with everything else I write, I try to put myself in that frame of mind always. 

Tell us more about you love for Japan, and what first attracted you to the country?

Since I was a little kid, I had always felt attracted to Japan. I think it was for two reasons. The first was that I had wanted to be a ninja for as long as I can remember, and I would watch anime and martial arts films from Japan that my mother would rent for me at the local video stores. This was like every single week of my existence until I was a teenager. The second reason was that growing up, I lived nearby a Japanese family of two boys and a single mother. That mother would always make me curry and try to teach me Japanese, probably because I always played with her children and felt close to them. I never forgot her kindness to me, and she also looked so beautiful to me growing up that I sort of felt like I would one day marry a Japanese woman. I did just that, but for me, the real love for all things Japan was when I went and lived there. I did this several times, and each time, I found something new to love and enjoy, and I can’t say that about many other places I’ve been to in my life. And I’ve been to a LOT of places.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Well, I’m currently working on a book that involves cryptids and the end of the world. It’s my Game of Thrones, being that there’s around 80 characters and is pretty massive. One of the characters that is pretty important to the central plot is a Japanese woman who is affiliated with the Yakuza.

I’m also working at the same on a smaller story about a Japanese woman who is obsessed with ikemen porn and the Ebola virus. It’s a horror story, and kind of in the spirit of Audition, but there’s kind of a twist to it. I am doing research for this story right now.

I have a few more stories to tell after these two, but right now, I got my hands full trying to market KAI. I hope when that settles down a bit I can dive into writing full time, but we’ll have to wait and see.

If you would like to know more about KAI and Derek Vasconi, visit his website here, where he is also trying to raise money for the adapted screenplay and the official first print. Wouldn’t it be great to see this book become a screen adaptation ^ ^

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