Nobel prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe is a writer of very personal inclination. This latest to be translated book has a writer named Kogito with a handicapped son and references to Kogito’s earlier works which are titles that Oe himself has published. But it’s not just the biographical information that mirrors Oe’s own, the themes of the novel are those which would be of deep concern to a writer. One can imagine that these themes are of great interest to the writer Oe, as much as they are to the narrative’s alter-ego.
The making of art is not confined to literature. Kogitos’ wife (Chikashi), is a painter. Her brother, and Kogito’s best friend (Goro) is a film maker of some renown. Another long-time mutual friend (and collaborator) is a musician. When Goro unexpectedly commits suicide, that event sets off a probing into the nature of memory, remembrance of seminal events that have shaped our lives. That and a box of cassette tapes recorded by Goro right up until the time of his death. But how do we remember these moments? Is it that artists remember them differently? Do they shape memories even as they are pulled out for inspection?
This is an odd duck of a book, certainly. The writings of Rimbaud play a large part in the relationship between Goro and Kogito. The writings of Maurice Sendak are referred to often. And it has one of the most interesting and important epilogues I’ve read in some time. It’s deceptively fast to read, but you’re really skating on the surface. This is a dense book when all is said and done. I’d say this is a writer’s book most of all.