Kenzaburo Oe's 1964 novel, A Personal Matter, opens as the protagonist, Bird, gazes down at a showcase containing an unaffordable atlas open to a map of Africa before he purchases the more practical Michelin road maps of the distant continent to which he dreams of escaping. As he wanders the city aimlessly, he ponders his chances of ever using these maps in his pocket as he is soon to be weighed down with the responsibilities of a family. He has left his wife at the hospital in the care of her mother and doctors as she enters labor. Upon returning home, he receives a call that he must return to the hospital immediately. The baby is "abnormal."
And that could be one blurb for this short semi-autobiographical work, and while factually correct, it speaks little to what the book is actually about - the alienation of an individual (and other like him) in post world war Japan. I had great hopes for this book as I read of the controversial Oe and his fusion of Eastern and Western themes and language utilized to create a poetic description of symbolic flight, but the actual execution left me cold. There are the issues of translation and writing that Richard captures quite insightfully here. The novel's themes would have been more powerful to me delivered starkly, without the overwrought prose. Also could not help but feel almost juvenilely taunted by the storytelling as it invites shock while delivering boredom. Like the confused adolescent who fails to emotionally connect to his own acts of rebellion. And perhaps this was intentional as evidenced by the pat ending, but I had ceased to be interested by the time I reached that point.
Disinclined to write about this at all, my thoughts are somewhat abbreviated here but I direct you to the more well-crafted insights of other Non-Structured Book Group readers this month - Emily, Sarah, Richard, Iris, Bellezza, Claire, Amy.