THE SILENT CRY by Kenzaburo Oe


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The second novel to appear in English by Kenzaburo Oe, a major writer of Japan's postwar generation, repeats many situations from A Personal Matter (1968) in a more suggestive, more intricately webbed philosophical novel. While Oe is more conventional than the older Kobo Abe, he's also an intellectual maze-maker of overlapping social and mythic systems. The Silent Cry explores the ideological conflict of two modern, cosmopolitan brothers who might be the two hemispheres of the Japanese mind. Taka, a former student activist, is impulsive, given to violence and obsessed with self-punishment and death. Mitsu, through whose one good eye we view the events of the novel, is ""objective,"" establishmentarian, introspective -- already depressed by the institutionalization of a brain-damaged baby and the bizarre and puzzling suicide of his best friend (an overriding motif) when Taka suggests they return to the village of their birth to ""find their roots"" by studying their ancestry and to ""begin a new life."" When Taka organizes the local young men in an uprising, Mitsu unmasks him as a pathetic game-player, forcing Taka's own suicidal hand. But postclimactic events reveal that the magnificent gesture (one thinks of Mishima) is the only means to purpose or progress, that legend and fact are indistinguishable. Oe is dense, analytical, with a highly modern self-consciousness, though there's real nostalgia here for the dying traditions of pre-Westernized supermarket culture. A picture of fragmenting identity and social breakdown as brutalizing as the 20th century itself.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1975
Publisher: Kodansha -- dist. by Harper & Row