Two brothers, Takashi and Mitsu, return from Tokyo to the village of their childhood. The selling of their family home leads them to a confrontation with their family history. Their attempt to escape the influence of the city ends in failure as they realize that its tentacles extend to everything in the countryside, including their relationship.
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really liked it
Kenzaburō Ōe uses an historical 1860 uprising as the basis for his dark novel of two bothers soul-searching, and enduring a personal crisis in postwar Japan, a world where existence and myth deliquesce to form a disturbing picture of the human predicament. With reverberating touches of Dostoevsky and Mishima, Ōe’s powerful story concerns that of Mitsusaburo, the married older brother living and working out of Tokyo, and Takashi, young and confident returning from the United States after being in
The story itself is multi-layered, driven forward with anguish and foreboding, but also with a lingering hope and sense of redemption. There are many bleak passages of writing that were fiercely alarming, but just so well written after a somewhat laboured opening, while the overall tone of the narrative felt like a cloak of darkness, with just a tiny opening for letting the sun of a morning horizon seduce your eyes, to witness a beauty through the engulfing chaos.
There is a significant subplot, mostly revealed through reminiscences, about the history of the village and the boys family during the past one hundred years or so, it’s murky and unclear to grasp hold of this side of proceedings at first, and only becomes more apparent by the end, however for me at least, I still felt slightly unsure of the satisfactory answers. Linking the past with their present lives, themes of strong family loyalty and honour, personal responsibility, economic degradation, racism, and self-liberation are explored in an acute way, with Ōe not afraid to hold back with some truly shocking lines that were upsetting to read, but wholly necessary.
Under normal circumstances this novel may for some feel a little contrived, had it been set in a country other than Japan it would probably would be, I find with most Japanese literature there is something buried deep inside that’s difficult to fully comprehend for an outsider, but that never falls into the category of monotony reading. I am not going to lie, it’s harsh and sombre nature so nearly got the better of me,, but on a lighter level (not nearly enough) Ōe does portray rural Japan in fascinating clarity, and brings this world to life right in front of you. For me, I believe Oe’s Nobel prize was fully justified for his insight and humanity, and there was enough in the meaning and quality of the writing here that tells me this undoubtedly is rightly viewed as a masterpiece of postwar Japanese fiction, tainted with an irreparably spirited notion of being written in ancestral blood.