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I read Don Mitchell's nonfiction book, Shibai, in two sessions, finishing this morning during three uninterrupted hours in which I was totally absorbed. This is a book, a memoir, worth reading, thinking about and discussing for many reasons. Let me say this: I am not a reader of mysteries, except perhaps Jostein Gaarder's "Sophie's World" which is not generally considered a mystery -- and I'm not a fan of thrillers or true crime (with the exception of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"z). I generally don't like "page-turners" because all too often they are contrived to show how clever the author is. I don't read to be scared or titillated, I don't like to be played. I read to connect, to feel, to understand, to explore. Yet I was compelled to turn the pages of this Mitchell's unusual psychological memoir, totally absorbed. This reflection, this confession, this memoir, relates to me, to all of us: how we assume things, how our own memories mislead us, lie to us, shibai us, if I can make a verb of the Japanese noun the author so appropriately chooses for the title. "Shibai; Remembering Jane Britton's Murder" is an anthropologist's absorbing exploration of his own life -- and the lifelong impact of one young woman's death. Do we want to find out who done it? Yes, but that's not what kept me riveted. I am left with many questions to ponder, including this one: Who do the dead belong to?

 

I read this fascinating memoir side by side with Becky Cooper's We Keep the Dead Close, which is great investigative reporting about Jane Britton's murder. This memoir, however, is about how for 50 years that murder wove itself through the life of the author, Jane's friend (and for a while, a suspect). It's an engrossing story – humorous, wild, sad, full of all kinds of fascinating bits of information and snapshots from Mitchell's years with the Nagovisi people of Bougainville to his years of ultra running and walking, including on the Mauna Kea volcano, to the culture of his home town of Hilo Hawai'i, to his relationship with the cop who came to get his DNA in 2017 when Jane's case was reopened. I laughed out loud many places, and had tears in my eyes at the end. Mitchell writes beautifully. Five stars.