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Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! by…

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!

by Kenzaburō Ōe

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227772,925 (3.51)49



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I picked this book up on a whim after reading about it on one of my favorite book blogs and being drawn to its poetic title (from a work by William Blake). This was my introduction to Nobel Prize winner, Kenzaburo Oe. I’m not going to be able to do justice to this book, but still wanted to capture my thoughts on it. The book is about a father, a writer, who tries to write up a dictionary of all that his mentally-handicapped son needs to know about life. All throughout, he meditates on the ways in which his interpretations of William Blake’s works illuminate his understandings of the father-son relationship, death, his own childhood, human communication and connection. It feels like an intensely personal memoir (and indeed there are elements, we’re told by Oe’s translator, that are taken from Oe’s life), diary, and literary analysis all at the same time. I wasn’t so much interested in the parts on Blake’s poetry and indeed, most of it went over my head. Yet, what kept me turning the pages was the father’s recounting the experience of parenting a handicapped child, the difficulties, the fears, but also the joys—never in a trite, overly maudlin way. Apparently this theme is one that runs through many of Oe’s other works, and thanks to this book, I’m eager to explore this father-son relationship further. It’s a quiet book, often esoteric and boring in parts, but deeply moving. ( )
  Samchan | Mar 31, 2013 |
“Father, father, where are you going
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost.“
-William Blake, Songs of Innocence

K is a famous Japanese author, residing in Tokyo with his wife and three children, and obsessed with the work of William Blake, the 18th century English poet and artist. His oldest son, Eeyore, is severely disabled, having had surgery as a child to remove a non-functioning second brain growing on the exterior of his skull. Eeyore is a musical savant, who as a child requires constant care and supervision, and becomes the focal point of the family’s life. As he develops and strives for greater independence, his behavior moves through disparate and unsettling periods of tenderness, engagement and withdrawal, defiance and physical aggression. K is a devoted father, who struggles with feelings of inadequacy and ambivalence, and turns to the work of Blake in an attempt to reconcile the realities of his life. Frustrated by the challenges of understanding and communicating with Eeyore, K sets out to explain the world to his disabled son by compiling a book of “definitions”, vignettes drawn from memories he associates with such words as feet, river, death, dream and violence.

This is a story of parent-child relationships and a father’s efforts to honor his own history and inner life, while facing overwhelming responsibilities for which he feels unprepared. It is the story of a profoundly disabled youth who struggles to form an independent identity and to interact with the world on his own terms. And it is the story of how one individual seeks to understand and impose meaning on his life through studying great works of literature and art.

The author reveals gradually that this is autobiographical fiction. Occasionally slipping into his own voice, Oe seamlessly merges his identity with that of the narrator, K. Although Eeyore is a fictionalized, more capable and communicative representation of his own disabled son, Oe seems to ultimately unite their identities, concluding the novel with Eeyore discarding his childish nickname in favor of Hiraki, his given name and that of Oe’s real life son.

Oe’s novel is also a tribute to the poetry and art of William Blake, whom he quotes and discusses extensively. In the final chapter, K describes the book as a “…chronicle of William Blake superimposed on my life with my son…”. I came to this book with little prior knowledge of Blake and have left it more curious.

Kenzaburo Oe’s Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! is an unusual and challenging novel. There is no question that Oe is a skilled writer who brings a unique perspective to his fiction. When K is relating events from his own life and that of his family, the story is touching and universally relevant on both experiential and emotional levels. However, as the novel advanced, K’s digressions into discussion of William Blake became more dense, interrupting the flow of my reading. I hope eventually to return to this novel with a greater knowledge of Blake, as this seems necessary to its full appreciation. ( )
7 vote Linda92007 | Mar 5, 2012 |
A stolen glimpse of a poem by William Blake in a library years before has guided the life's work of a Japanese author. He returns repeatedly to the theme of labor and sorrow in his books and to the dark valley of his own life as a father to a mentally handicapped son. Now that "Eeyore" is becoming an adult, "K" mourns the lost years when he failed to connect with this son whom he loves. He worries about the truths he has tried so hard to instill in his son until he realizes that he has as much to learn from Eeyore as he has to teach him.

The father-son relationship in this book resonated with me, but a lack of background in the poetry and art of William Blake along with a poor understanding of Japanese culture and politics kept me from understanding what the author was trying to convey. His obsession with Blake mirrored his self-absorption and his unconscious guilt and frustration about caring for a brain-damaged son. The Afterword by translator John Nathan cleared up much of my confusion about the autobiographical bias in this novel. I wish I had read this information first! The book generated interesting discussion for our book group because of the variety of opinions. ( )
2 vote Donna828 | Feb 2, 2012 |
This was an excellent novel. This is an autobiographical tale that interweaves the story of the author's son who has brain damage with musings on the poetry of William Blake. The father tries to show that raising his son requires special intuition that he sometimes can give, but needs insight from other sources. There are memories of the author. being caught in a constricted section of favored water hole and being saved by his mother. Then his son is saved from drowning at city gymnasium pool by a person of questionable politics. The son is nicknamed Eeyore, the melancholy stuffed animal from Winnie-the-Pooh. Oe has ruminations on life and politics, and his literary travels, but he is always thinking of his son. For a section M, who is probably Yukio Mishima, has an intense although silent presence. Eeyore lives his life a little strangely, if not obliquely, but he comes to the fore in his ability with playing and even composing music. The novel has a rather satisfying resolution at the end, but I don't want to hint at it. ( )
  vpfluke | Feb 3, 2009 |
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Book description
translation of Atarashii hito yo mezameyo
Table of Contents;
1: Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience;
2: A Cold Babe Stands in the Furious Air;
3: Down, Down thro' the Immense, with Outcry;
4: The Ghost of a Flea;
5: The Soul Descends as a Falling Star, to the bones at My Heel;
6: Let the Inchained Sou Rise and Look Out;
7: Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080213968X, Paperback)

Wise and illuminating, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! is a masterpiece from one of the world's finest writers, Kenzaburo Oe -- winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. K is a famous writer living in Tokyo with his wife and three children, one of whom is mentally disabled. K's wife confronts him with the information that this child, Eeyore, has been doing disturbing things -- behaving aggressively, asserting that he's dead, even brandishing a knife at his mother -- and K, given to retreating from reality into abstraction, looks for answers in his lifelong love of William Blake's poetry. As K struggles to understand his family and assess his responsibilities within it, he must also reevaluate himself -- his relationship with his own father, the political stances he has taken, the duty of artists and writers in society. A remarkable portrait of the inexpressible bond between this father and his damaged son, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! is the work of an unparalleled writer at his sparkling best.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:19 -0400)

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