Like Apollinaire

Michael Wood

Perhaps all books are messages from other times and places, even the ones written yesterday and just down the road. But these three works by Kenzaburo Oë, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, have an unusual flavour of missives cast into the sea long ago, only now arriving on our island beach. Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids was published in Japan in 1958, and is now translated for the first time. A Personal Matter was published in Japan in 1964, and in an American translation, here reprinted, in 1969. Hiroshima Notes was published in Japan in 1965 and first translated, in this version, in 1981. So the youngest of the books is thirty years old, half Oë’s own age. The effect of reading them now is not to make us feel we have been there before, because we haven’t, even if we have been to Japan and read other Japanese novels. The effect, on me at least, was to make me try to remember these books’ English and American coevals, whatever it was we were reading in the wake of Sartre and Camus, and before the Sixties became the Sixties. William Golding, Iris Murdoch, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Thomas Pynchon, who else?

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