A little book with a large agenda: to describe the uniquely interdependent relationship of Nobel Prize—winning Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe and his severely brain-damaged son, Hikari, scrutinize the fictionalized representations of Hikari that are central to Oe's novels, appraise Hikari's musical compositions, analyze the nature of creativity, and delve into the workings of the human brain. Cameron (The Prospect of Detachment, 1988), who writes about Asian art and culture, draws on Oe's own writings and interviews with the Oe family, music reviewers, and brain specialists for this account, portions of which have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. She explores Oe's decision to have life-saving surgery performed on his infant son's herniated brain even though it meant raising a severely handicapped child in a society strongly prejudiced against the handicapped, and she recounts the Oes' efforts to stimulate their mute son first with birdsong recordings and later with music. In a culture where fathers may have little to do with raising children, Oe was extraordinarily involved in caring for Hikari, and they remain unusually close. Oe has said that his motivation in writing fiction was to speak for Hikari, who could not speak for himself, and Cameron examines how Hikari-like characters have been a constant theme of his work. Hikari became a celebrity in his own right with the release in 1992 and 1994 of two CDs of his classical compositions. That these are not masterpieces seems clear, but that they are astonishing accomplishments is indisputable. Cameron, who has researched the world of musical savants, finds Hikari to be the only known savant composer, and she looks for clues to his remarkable abilities in both his genes and his upbringing. In the end, the mystery remains a mystery, perhaps because Hikari is unknowable, but Cameron's engrossing account seems likely to arouse interest in the works of both father and son.
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