Posts Tagged ‘Kenzaburo Oe’

I got Kenzaburō Ōe’sA Personal Matter‘ as a gift from one of my favourite friends a long time back. It looked a bit dark and so I thought I’ll wait for the right time to read it. It looked like the right time arrived a few days back 🙂

Bird works as a teacher in a cram-school. This is a kind of training institute where students are coached for entrance exams to university or taught English to improve their communication skills. Bird’s wife has given birth to a baby recently and both she and the baby are at the hospital. When Bird reaches the hospital, he discovers that his baby is not normal. It has something protruding out of its head, which looks like a smaller second head. The doctor says that they have to perform a surgery, but there is no guarantee that the baby will survive after the surgery and even if it does, there is no guarantee that it will grow up to be a normal person because there is a high probability that it will have to stay in bed for its whole life and would need constant care. Bird is very upset and depressed with this. He wants his baby to die but he feels guilty for wishing that. When Bird tries to take a break from this and distract himself, things start happening one after the other in rapid succession. First a few teenagers try beating him up. Then his father-in-law gives him a bottle of whisky, though he knows that Bird is a recovering alcoholic. Bird goes to an old friend’s place, gets drunk and stays over. He turns up with a hangover at work the next day and is later fired from his job. One misfortune after another happening in rapid succession – it was like watching Martin Scorsese’sAfter Hours‘. What happens after that and how the situation resolves itself forms the rest of the story.

I loved Kenzaburō Ōe’s prose. There were so many beautiful sentences sprinkled throughout the story. For example, there were sentences like this :

“Bird would have to answer questions honed on the whetstone of her curiosity and good will.”

And this :

“Either the woman was exhausted or she was signaling to Bird the approximate depth of the swamp of calamity he and his wife were mired in.”

And this :

“Like the dwarfs in illustrated books of fairy tales, he returned Bird’s gaze with a look of ancient prudence on his face…”

And this one :

“She too was heading for the north pole of disgruntlement.”

The prose was very different from that of other Japanese writers I have read. It almost felt like the book was written in English by a British or an Australian writer. I thought initially that this might be because of the translation. But then I read the translator’s note at the beginning of the book and it said this – “Oë’s style has been the subject of much controversy in Japan…There are critics in Japan who take offense. They cry that Oë’s prose “reeks of butter,” which is a way of saying that he has alloyed the purity of Japanese with constructions from Western languages.” I liked that explanation. So this is Oē’s style. So fascinating!

I liked ‘A Personal Matter‘. It is a complex book and so I am not able to say that I loved it. The main character Bird is a complex, flawed individual, but who also has a good, beautiful, adventurous side. It is hard to love him, it is hard to hate him. He does something interesting in the end, but I can’t tell you what he does, you have to read the story and find out. My favourite character in the book was Himiko. She is Bird’s best friend and sometimes doubles as his lover. She is a free spirit and a happy-go-lucky person and she is kind and wonderful and rebellious and unconventional. Such a fascinating character.

Kenzaburō Ōe has written many other novels and a nonfiction book about Hiroshima. I want to read that sometime.

Have you read Kenzaburō Ōe’sA Personal Matter‘? What do you think about it?

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