<= 2005.01.14

2005.01.17 =>

phacochoere

Kenzaburo Oe, A Personal Matter. Philip Roth doing The Stranger, in Japanese. I'm told that something like half of Oe's books are about children born with birth defects—this actually happened to him—and I could see a lot of them taking the same course. Bird, a sad-sack English teacher and frustrated intellectual, discovers that his wife has given birth to a child with a brain hernia, i.e., the brain is protruding from the back of the skull and gives the child the appearance of having two heads. After some encounters with grotesque officials at the hospital (which inevitably reminded me of Kobo Abe), some guilt-ridden conversations with his wife (who is being kept in the dark about the baby's condition), some infidelity and drunken benders and humiliation at the workplace, Bird decides that the baby has to be killed. Things continue in this dark vein until a sudden reversal and intrusion of moral sense at the end, which somehow fixes everything. So if you were all right with the weird redemption-by-moral-choice at the end of The Stranger, you might like this one too.

Actually, despite my misgivings about the book's structure and the often-clunky translation, it was a better read than I'm probably making it sound. Oe does differ from Camus in that his setting is less a placeless allegory and more a recognizable human society. There's also much dark comedy in Bird's continual guilt over his actions, and Oe knows how to draw out the transgression-and-remorse cycle in an entertaining way. It read quickly, and my bullshit detector only went off occasionally. But I'm still trying to find a Japanese author other than Abe who I really like—if any of you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.

 

<= 2005.01.14

2005.01.17 =>

up (2005.01)

The Warm South
The Roof Rat Review