by Kenzaburo Oe
translated by John Nathan
Bird wasn’t sure he wanted to be a father, especially if it meant (and how could it not?) pushing his dream of exploring Africa into the very distant future. He was nearly positive that he didn’t want to be the father of a monster-baby, a baby hideously mis-formed and most likely brain damaged. Did he have to keep it? At the expense of his marriage and his personal integrity, couldn’t he just quietly let it die?
This book takes an intimate look at a few days in the life of a 27 year old man who is facing one of the more terrifying moments in life – the birth of his first child. Bird, intellectuality frustrated and beaten down by the complexities of Japanese society, finds himself facing a series of impossible decisions. Whiskey doesn’t succeed in drowning his troubles, and the comforts of an old lover only complicates matters.
Bird is an amazing character who is by turns a sympathetic antihero, and a sad excuse for humanity. I wouldn’t say that I liked him, but I could for the most part see where he was coming from and relate to his fear. My mind reels at the thought of how I would face a similar circumstance. At times I found his thoughts and choices totally despicable, but his frailty and despair made him very real to me.
Oe gets a lot of points for style. His writing is very interesting – lots of striking imagery and turns of phrase that were unexpected and vibrant. I was swept along by his prose, even if the story itself didn’t grip me. I didn’t like the book particularly, even though the writing was very appealing to me and I can appreciate Oe’s unflinching portrayal.
This was our July pick for the non-structured book group, and on a last note, it is interesting to compare this example of the contradictions found in the human reaction to life, with Josipovici’s examination of it in Moo Pak, last month’s read. Hmmm. Always a fascinating, if often uncomfortable, topic.
Next month we’ll be reading In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams. Join us? Discussion will be on the last Friday of the month.