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A QUIET LIFE by Kenzaburo Oe


by Kenzaburo Oe

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8021-1597-7
Publisher: Grove

 This 1990 novel by the 1994 Nobel-winner fictionalizes publicly known facts about Oe's personal life: specifically, the story of his adult son Hikari, hopelessly brain-damaged yet possessed of a remarkable intuitive gift that has brought him fame and success as a composer of some highly original music. It's a curious book. The ordeals of the unnamed family at its center are described in a ``diary'' kept by their only daughter (and middle child) Ma-Chan, a student of literature who becomes her brother's keeper when their father, an eminent novelist identified as ``K,'' travels to America for a six-month residency at a California college. What begins as a strictly factual, almost clinical account of the details of caring for a grown man (``Eeyore,'' as Hikari is affectionately nicknamed) who's subject to epileptic fits, easily distracted, and only intermittently lucid, metastasizes, as it were, into a linked series of meditations on films seen (especially Andrei Tarkovsky's futuristic Stalker), books read (Blake's ``Prophetic Books,'' CÇline's Rigadoon), and disturbing experiences (a respected uncle's death from cancer, the apprehension of a neighborhood child-molester, strained relations with a muscular swimming coach who has been accused of sexual impropriety). These events appear, to the imaginative Ma-Chan, to have some significance in her ongoing struggle to accept her brother for what he is, and in her efforts to help make him a functioning part of society--imperatives that, in a courageous display of self-scrutiny, Oe clearly feels he himself has only imperfectly heeded. The novel is, on the whole, tediously discursive--and yet, as is always the case with Oe, the simplicity of his style and the bluntness with which his ideas are presented contrast intriguingly with the often hallucinatory intensity of his characters' emotions and perceptions. You know there's something substantial here, and you keep reading on. Imperfect work, then, but, still, a welcome building-block in the ungainly structure that is Oe's utterly distinctive and compelling oeuvre. (Author tour)