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Literature / Arts

A Personal Matter

(Grove Press 1969)

Kenzaburo Oe

Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.
Among Oe’s major works was Kojinteki na Taiken, here translated into English by John Nathan as A Personal Matter.
In it Oe tells the story of a Japanese father whose son is born brain damaged.
He must decide between an operation or letting the baby die.
Trying to escape this dilemma he attempts to lose himself in sex, in alcohol, in nihilism.
Finally, however, he decides for life.
Some critics have seen the novel not only as a philosophical statement but also as something of an allegory.
Japan lost its moral certainty when it lost WWII and all of the culture which had supported this certainty.
Postwar Japan found itself with no moral compass of its own, only the one that the West had lent it.
Like a brain-damaged child, Japan had to create its own life, diminished though its native sources were.
And, like the infant in his novel, it asserted its will to live.
At the same time, Oe himself experienced all of this within his own family, and the brain-damaged son went on to find fulfillment in music.
The novel is thus not only an ethical study but also a moving human document.

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