First American publication of 1994 Nobelist Oe's 1958 debut novel: a fiercely intense, unsparingly realistic chronicle of the cruelties visited on the deviant and the different. Unlike most Japanese writers, Oe (The Silent Cry, 1975, etc.) prefers the direct to the oblique, truth to euphemism, and the intellectual to the mystic. Set in rural Japan, an area almost mythic in its isolation and timelessness, the story concerns a group of juvenile delinquents being evacuated en masse from a reformatory due to wartime air raids. Harried from village to village by hostile peasants who mistreat and starve them, the boys finally arrive in a rain-sodden mountain hamlet. Here, they must dig a grave and then bury a mound of plague-ridden animal corpses. Overnight, one of the youngest boys dies from the plague, and next morning all awake to find the village abandoned except for a girl and a dead woman; the inhabitants, fearing the plague, have blocked all exits and fled. For a while, time ""went really slowly and simply wouldn't pass."" Then the adolescent narrator, his tenderhearted young brother, and their tough comrade Minami break into the houses for food; they meet an abandoned Korean boy and a deserting soldier who's been hiding in the forest; and the narrator has a brief love affair with the nameless girl left behind in the villagers' flight. But she sickens and dies; his brother runs away; the residents return to kill the deserter and punish the boys; and the narrator -- ""only a child, tired, insanely angry, tearful, shivering with cold and hunger"" -- runs off into the forest. More shaded, more graphic, and angrier than Lord of the Flies, but the fierce anger is transmuted by Oe's art into literary gold -- an anguished plea for tolerance more wrenching than any rant could ever be.