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Kangaroo Notebook by Kōbō Abe
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Kangaroo Notebook

by Kōbō Abe

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296560,413 (3.5)36
One man's hell at the hands of the health establishment in Japan. It begins when he discovers radishes sprouting from his shins. Admitted to hospital, he finds himself in the grip of bizarre forces: a self-propelled hospital bed, doctors intent on curing the wrong ailments, infant ghosts and mysterious windstorms.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
-- Potential spoilers depending on how sensitive you are to spoilers. --

Up to now Abe has been presenting stories about our sense of identity versus society's idea of identity while giving insight on certain aspects of Japanese society. In this story, Abe's last, he appears to demonstrate flaws in the Japanese medical system while examining Japan's perception of moral death. As is typical of Abe, the beginning of the story is highly relatable as its realism (despite certain fantastical elements) really puts you into the story. About halfway through though, although amazed by the storytelling and the imagery (very memorable!), you should start to get confused as to where Abe is going, as the fantasy and surrealism take over. But at the end, he ties it all together with his final reveal.

It's the story of a man who wakes up to find radish sprouts growing out of his legs. When he decides to go to a dermatology clinic to get his rash looked at, he finds himself strapped down to a hospital bed under heavy sedation. We find Abe's initial jabs at the health care industry in Japan what with it's initial first come-first serve approach (despite the degree of pain one might be in) and basic all-encompassing approach to your problem no matter what the problem might be. Then, as he is strapped to the bed we see the mocking again as we find his treatment to be much more severe than what is probably necessary.

As he comes in an out of sedation, Abe takes us on a wild ride somewhere between reality and fantasy until the absurdities take over. From here on out the characters are interesting, the descriptions comic while incredibly surreal, as the character is pursued by his hospital bed and he meets his dead mother and a blood-collection agent who is really a vampire.

But what is the character escaping? We see him trying to escape his hospital bed (escaping his illness), visiting sulfur spas (trying to treat his illness), encountering nurses and blood-collectors under different forms (perhaps another trip back to the hospital in real life), an encounter with his dead mother (is he on the brink of death?) followed by a final article published by a newspaper. Aha! Yes, indeed, very interesting (especially considering a particular club in the book).

Another good Abe read but not the book I would start off with and for me, not as inspiring and socially interesting as his other works although highly enjoyable and definitely an engrossing read. ( )
2 vote lilisin | Apr 7, 2014 |
What would you do if you woke up one morning to find radish sprouts starting to grow on the shins of your leg up to your knees? In the case of the narrator of this book, he takes himself off to a dermatologist, causes the doctor to throw up, is hooked up to an IV and catheter by an attractive nurse named Damselfly, strapped onto a hospital bed, and then discharged, with a note from the doctor to visit a sulfur hotspring in the Valley of Hell. And so begins our narrator's wild adventure. He wills his bed to move and to his shock, it does, rolling down the street and then hurtling down a cavern into what might just be Hell. The benefit of growing radish sprouts on one's leg, though, is that at least one has food he can pluck and munch on whenever he's hungry.

His adventures include rolling into a department store and attempting to purchase some clothes, rolling on train tracks in the cavern shared by miniature trains, being chased by female squid attracted to the male squids that have appeared in his IV bag, meeting child-demons of the chanting Help Me Please Club and their artistic director, wadding through a cabbage field and meeting his dead mother, an American karate expert with a penchant for violence and who studies fatal accidents, and repeated meetings with Damselfly who shows up unannounced and out of the blue, often to help him out of problems. But then Damselfly turns out to be a bit of a vampire who is on her own quest to win the Dracula's Daughter medal.

Throughout, the reader isn't sure if this is supposed to be real or adventures the narrator is dreaming. However, his adventures all take him to or through some aspects of death and the afterlife, and makes the way the book ends perfect.

It's humorous and quite thought provoking. It's definitely rich in imagery. I'd recommend this to fans of Japanese literature. ( )
1 vote cameling | Aug 11, 2013 |
This novel was more strange than surreal, yet somehow readable. I think I would have to take a hallucinogenic drug to come close to understanding it, though. The main character is a Japanese man who wakes up to find that radish plants are growing out of pores on both of his legs (fortunately the plants are tasty, so he is able to snack on them at times). He undertakes an increasingly bizarre journey to seek a cure for his malady, occasionally aided and accompanied by an attractive nurse who collects blood from anyone she can, in her quest to win the Dracula's Daughter award. He encounters singing child-demons, strange fellow patients, and a motorized bed which transports him throughout the story and responds to thought commands. It was completely nonsensical and mildly humorous, but I can't say that I enjoyed it. ( )
2 vote kidzdoc | Oct 31, 2011 |
Weird weird weird weird. But great. A totally confusing but refreshing read, in true magical realist style. ( )
  leahdawn | Jun 5, 2010 |
In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan's most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. The narrator of Kangaroo Notebook wakes on morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe's unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the very shores of hell. Abe has assembled a cast of oddities into a coherent novel, one imbued with unexpected meaning. Translated from the Japanese by Maryellen Toman Mori. ( )
2 vote ihavereadthat | Jul 1, 2007 |
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It should have turned out like any other morning.
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