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A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

A Personal Matter (original 1964; edition 1995)

by Kenzaburō Ōe

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1,191196,734 (3.77)42
Title:A Personal Matter
Authors:Kenzaburō Ōe
Info:Picador (1995), Paperback, 165 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Norfolk Libraries

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A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oë (1964)



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English (16)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
I can understand literary critics responding in glowing terms about this novel for Oe adopts a style that is ground breaking to the Japanese literary tradition, choosing a modern (for when it was written) American noir style typified by gritty art films of the 60s. But ground breaking style points are not enough to overcome so much of what is bad in this novel.

Bird is aptly named since he is immature and as self-centered as a two year-old, completely wrapped up in his emotional response to his newborn son's birth defect to the point of accepting the suggestion by his mistress that they take the baby to an abortionist who will murder it for them. At this point, having put up with his extremely unbelievable indecision and ambivalence, the theme of bleak nuclear age alienation and ennui-- themes so popular in American literature of the 50s and most appropriately explored in science fiction and bildungsroman novels of the time -- abruptly becomes one of anti-abortionism.

However, the prominent theme of the novel is fear. In a completely unearned epiphany, Bird finds the "courage" to face his life as the father of a child who may be permanently disabled and abruptly becomes decisive. He's in a gay bar and is confronted by a friend he'd drifted away from when they were teen-agers. The friend recounts the night when he and Bird separated and their lives went in different directions. The scene echoes the motifs we've encountered throughout the novel: gross deformity, running away, madness, and fear. Unfortunately, those motifs carry greater weight in the incident from their youth than they do in Bird's present. Yes, we see gross deformity in his infant son; Bird seeks multiple diversions to escape facing that reality; he thinks the "pressure" of his infant's newborn strength and vitality in spite of his defect will drive him mad; and he's afraid that his son's continued existence will deprive him of his fantasized future. Abruptly, this happens. . .

"-- Bird gulped down his first whiskey of what had been a long day. Seconds later, something substantial and giant stirred sluggishly inside him. The whiskey he had just poured into his stomach, Bird effortlessly puked."

Right then and there Bird has his "ah-ha!" moment. All through the novel, it should be said, the man has been drinking whiskey and throwing up. Why is this puke different from all the others? No reason.

Bird had been asking himself all the same questions that he gets from his friend in the bar; earlier, he's been asked them by another gay person, his mistress' old high school friend; even earlier, his wife has confronted him about the self same issues.

The novel then leaps into a near future, where Bird, reunited with his family, is seen as a changed man and believes himself to be one. He eschews everything that caused him great anxiety, is clear-headed, speaks sensibly, seems totally in charge. It's as if all the sturm und drang never happened.

If Oe wants me to believe all this story was so much of A Personal Matter that it never really happened, like a dream or a fairy tale, well then, he succeeded.

This reader felt cheated. I put the book down dismayed at the facile and contrived story telling that seemed after reading from beginning to end the effort of an overwrought and marginally talented creative writing program student. Should anyone read this review, knowing the book is the iconic work of this Nobel Prize winning author, they'll think I'm wrong. That's their right. Yet, I feel that I may be the lone reader whose eyes Oe was not able to pull the wool over. Guess that's my right. ( )
1 vote Limelite | Sep 1, 2015 |
I have never cringed so much while reading a book. And I don't mean cheap cringes like you'd get from reading about an awkward adolescence, I mean serious, serious shrinking of the soul, some of it sympathetic and some not. What a horrific setup for a hugely cathartic ending. Nothing can match Bird's surreal and overblown fear of the "monstrous" infant or his self-loathing, so the ending is marked not by happiness and resolution but by a return to normalcy. Of sorts. ( )
  amelish | Sep 12, 2013 |
A raw and powerful book about the brutality of life, human dreams, and dignity. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
I knew from early on this was a great book, but I also hated it, right up to the end. Then it redeemed itself. It a great story about a horrendous, damaged people, in a cold and severe culture, dealing with deep pain and helplessness. The only bits of lightheartedness were Oe's over-the-top poetic treatments of the most disgusting and awful things-- like vomiting, certain sex acts, and deformed babies-- so dark humor to be sure.

Oe's writing really does draw the reader into the distastefulness of the situation and the characters though. You feel dirty and immoral in Himiko's cave. You want to smack the doctors across the face. And you feel nothing for the mother or baby, who ought to be sympathetic characters. The book made me want to take a shower. Although I can't say I enjoyed reading this book I have to admire writing that powerful. All the more so since Oe himself is the father of a disabled son. I agree with the other reviewers who comment that the ending seems contrived and unbelievable, but I'm okay with that. I'm glad that corner was turned.

I don't know who to recommend this book to. It's a great novel, but painful to read. I imagine those who can handle it know who they are. 4 stars. ( )
  technodiabla | Jan 9, 2012 |
Fearful, angry, and unsure, the main character is Ōe’s novel is hard to sympathize with. It’s hard to even like him as he abandons his child (and his wife, for that matter) to take up drinking away and start an affair with another woman. This is a difficult, life-altering moment in a person’s life, and I would never expect someone to be all rainbows and sunshine about it. But his motivations for what he does seem to come from a desire to recapture who he was or who he could have been with another woman, with another life. He’s so selfish that him asking if the child can feel pain seems wholly out of character.

Read more on my blog: http://ardentreader.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/a-personal-matter/ ( )
  theardentreader | Jul 26, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kenzaburo Oëprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marshall-van Wieringen, M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reiling, HenriCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warburton, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
ZenoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mentre mirava el magnífic mapa de l'Àgrica col·locat dins l'expositor, elegant i orgullós com un cérvol salvatge, en Bird va reprimir un breu sospir.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802150616, Paperback)

Oe’s most important novel, A Personal Matter, has been called by The New York Times “close to a perfect novel.” In A Personal Matter, Oe has chosen a difficult, complex though universal subject: how does one face and react to the birth of an abnormal child? Bird, the protagonist, is a young man of 27 with antisocial tendencies who more than once in his life, when confronted with a critical problem, has “cast himself adrift on a sea of whisky like a besotted Robinson Crusoe.” But he has never faced a crisis as personal or grave as the prospect of life imprisonment in the cage of his newborn infant-monster. Should he keep it? Dare he kill it? Before he makes his final decision, Bird’s entire past seems to rise up before him, revealing itself to be a nightmare of self-deceit. The relentless honesty with which Oe portrays his hero — or antihero — makes Bird one of the most unforgettable characters in recent fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:03 -0400)

Publisher description: Kenzabur? ?e, the winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, is internationally acclaimed as one of the most important and influential post-World War II writers, known for his powerful accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and his own struggle to come to terms with a mentally handicapped son. His most popular book, A PERSONAL MATTER is the story of Bird, a frustrated intellectual in a failing marriage whose utopian dream is shattered when his wife gives birth to a brain-damaged child.… (more)

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