Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book 37: A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe

This is another shopping cart book that I picked up because I’m a sucker for Japanese literature.  This book is not long but it was hard to get through.  Written in the 1960’s I suppose it was probably one of the more honest postwar fictions at the time.  It is absolutely fascinating and disturbing at the same time. 

Bird is 27 and his wife is having a baby.  Bird does not know how to deal with impending fatherhood.  He has no time to come to terms with his feelings before he receives a call to come to the hospital—the baby was born but there was something wrong with it.  Bird’s mother-in-law won’t look at him and the doctors have no compassion, only clinical interest in the baby with the herniated brain.  The doctors want the baby transferred to another hospital so that they don’t have to be held responsible for it.  So Bird must take the baby somewhere else to wait out its death, which he has been assured will happen within a day or two.  Bird settles the baby in but finds he can’t wait at the hospital and unable to speak to his wife, he seeks out comfort with his old college girlfriend Himiko. 

I don’t want to say much more than that because it would give too much away.  This book really shows the internal struggle with his life and decisions.  Figuring out what to do about his child comes second to Bird’s desires and this is what makes the novel hard to read.  At one moment I feel nothing but pity for him and then a short while later, I was completely disgusted by his thoughts and behavior.  The book was well written and very interesting but so intense at times that I found it hard to keep up my desire to read it.  It was very good and worth finishing, but I doubt that I will read this again.

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