A HEALING FAMILY by Kenzaburo Oe


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Oe's (The Silent Cry, 1975, etc.) first new book since his 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature is a slender memoir returning to a familiar subject, his brain-injured son. The novelist has written about his first son Hikari's development on several occasions, in short stories, novels, and essays. Clearly, the experience of having a handicapped child is one that has marked his creative development, although that aspect of his life is covered only obliquely in this collection of essays about Hikari and the rest of the Oe family. The book's title carries a double meaning, repeatedly restated throughout its 15 essays (and in an afterword by Oe's wife, Yukari, who also provides the delicate line drawings at the head of each chapter). The Oe family has undergone a process of healing, achieving an acceptance of Hikari's limitations and a willingness, even eagerness, to let him test their boundaries. At the same time, their life with Hikari has left them better equipped to extend themselves to one another, to be a family that heals. This is nowhere more apparent than in Oe's many references to the strains caused by the presence of his 90-year-old mother-in-law, frail and quite senile, in the family home. Today Hikari is in his 30s, a serious and well-regarded composer of chamber music. Music, Oe says, has long provided Hikari's primary means of communication with an outside world that he often finds baffling. It is his music that occasions the book's most triumphant and moving moments, a musical tour of Europe in which Hikari gets to hear and meet many great European musicians in person. Oe's treatment of his family's struggle is always frank and shines with the quiet, unassuming intelligence and decency that has consistently been at the heart of his work. A lovely book, low-key, avoiding easy sentimentality, honest to a fault.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Kodansha