A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe

Kenzaburo Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, but I hadn’t read any of his books until this one. My brother–the one who never goes to the library because he doesn’t like used books–is really into Japanese literature. He gave me a stack of novels last week by various authors, and I chose this one because it was short–only 165 pages.

But those pages really do pack a wallop.

This book is not for everyone. And I don’t think I could choose it for my Literary Masters book groups. Although it’s very literary and there is much to think about, explore, and appreciate, the subject matter is quite painful. The protagonist Bird’s son has just been born with a grotesque deformity protruding from his head. We follow Bird as he reacts to and tries to escape from this shocking reality, and much of the book is very bleak, bordering on kind of sick in some parts.

Yet it’s really good. I found myself looking forward to getting back to it, I think because, along with all the depravity, there is also deep psychological understanding and human compassion in the story. Although Oe taps into our deepest fears, he also illuminates the resilience and courage that we are capable of.

For those who can handle the subject matter and who don’t mind reading something that isn’t, well, pleasant, I highly recommend this book. If you read it, let me know what you think. I am looking forward to my next novel by Kenzaburo Oe. I should go look at that stack of books my brother gave me…

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