Number 9 Dream
By David Mitchell

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Rating: Excellent
3 Stars

First Published: 2001
Pages: 400
Cover Illustration: Non-Sum Chung

Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Modern Fiction, Literature, Drama, Thriller



Number 9 Dream is a novel by David Mitchell about a young man’s quest to find the father he has never known in Tokyo Japan.  As he attempts to track down his father, Eiji Miyake, encounters a series of adventures which become life threatening when he stumbles into the organized crime world of the Yakusa.  For Eiji, finding his father may have to take a back seat to fighting for survival and the girl of his dreams.

Number 9 Dream alternates between the first person present tense narrative by Eiji and a variety of other narratives including daydreams, night dreams, flashbacks, a kamikaze submariner’s diary, and portions of a manuscript containing a surrealistic fable.  The main storyline is always engaging and it is generally fascinating to see the naïve young Eiji come to terms with the big city of Tokyo while learning about himself along the way.  Some of the dreams are highly amusing but a few dreams tend to go a long way.  The WWII diary entries add another very interesting view into Japanese culture.  All of the narratives were highly engaging except for the surrealistic fable written by a Japanese writer about an English writer.  The fable didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason and just didn’t work for me.  I kept reading these sections thinking there would be some kind of important connection to the main story but if there was, I missed it.  Perhaps it was meant to be some kind of commentary on how the Japanese might view the English culture but I thought this narrative was completely superfluous.

The best aspects of Number 9 Dream are the main character Eiji and how well this novel reveals the Japanese culture to westerners.  Eiji did not have an easy childhood as he was raised by his grandmother on a remote island while hardly knowing his mother and never meeting his father.  He also suffered through a horrible tragedy when he was 11 years old.  Nearing the age of 20, he decides to leave his small island for the big city of Tokyo to search for his father who he knows kept his mother as a mistress for a number of years before abandoning her and the children.  Throughout his quest, Eiji displays his hopes, fears, insecurities, and innermost thoughts.  Through Eiji’s thoughts and experiences the reader gains valuable insights into the Japanese culture.

When Eiji stumbles into the Japanese underworld, the novel takes a turn into a taught thriller with extreme violence.  Eiji sees gruesome crimes committed and ends up relying on his wits and luck to stay alive.  The Japanese underworld seems to be exceedingly vicious. 

The main storyline in Number 9 Dream is highly entertaining and rewarding, especially for those interested in Japan.  Some of the anciliary narratives are highly worthwhile while others are a bit distracting.  Despite this shortcoming, Number 9 Dream is highly recommended for those who have enjoyed any of Mitchell’s other novels.