The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

This was the first book I’ve read by this Japanese Nobel Laureate. It’s certainly impressive, but I’m not sure that he’ll ever become a real favourite of mine. I can see why Henry Miller compares him to Dostoyevsky on the back cover, but there was rather more of the existentialists for me in this, which I love far less than Fyodor. It doesn’t have an awful lot in it that is typically Japanese, I thought, and as a huge fan of a broad spectrum of Japanese arts, this is something of a disappointment to me, albeit an unreasonable one, since he obviously isn’t obliged to satisfy my tastes.

It’s a tale of a depressed man going back to the ancestral village, with his wife and brother. The brother is a troublemaker, a would-be revolutionary, and the protagonist disapproves of his provocations (these are adolescent in just the way I’ve always disliked in existentialism) in a muted, miserable and confused kind of way. The structuring is extremely strong, echoing events of the previous century and forcing reassessments frequently, and I found the star’s thinking very persuasively rendered. But I didn’t enjoy it so much – the main character’s pessimism is too clearly justified, in the absurd, incomprehensible and rubbish world depicted, and while it’s something of an achievement to depict this so well, that doesn’t make it fun to read, and I stopped imagining the existentialists had anything interesting to say to me a long time ago. There are big dramatic events now and then, but the perspective is a deadening one, so they don’t strike at all hard. If you’re a fan of Sartre and Camus, this is someone to try, but otherwise I can’t really see why you might want to.