Oe, Kenzaburo (translated by Paul St John-Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama)
Marion Boyars Publishers, London
ISBN: 07145 29974
Is there something about the Nobel Prize judges that make them favour harrowing shit? Maybe – I can’t confess to even a working knowledge of Nobel literature, but I know one thing, and that is that this book isn’t for the faint of heart, or even anyone who is tenderly inclined towards an idealistic notion of the adult-child relationship. Damn, the adults in this book make the Trunchbull look positively friendly.
For all that it is a bit on the intense side of things, it’s certainly an excellent read, and doesn’t come across as preachy at all. Given its subject matter, that would be a pretty easy thing; set during the mid- to late-Second World War period, in Japan, it deals with a group of reformatory boys who are forcibly evacuated to the countryside. To my mind, Oe has captured with amazing alacrity the capacity for children (the eldest is perhaps 12 or 13 years old) to feel responsibility, and to feel a desire to sacrifice their own comfort for the comfort of another. He’s also captured really nicely the tensions which exist between adults and children even during peacetime. These boys are continually being shunted about by adults, being always told that they’re terrible human beings and worthless when really, most of the adults aren’t any better – and mostly a lot worse. Read the rest of this entry