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Latest Review: "The Changeling" by Kenzaburo Oe

The “latest addition” to our Reviews Section is a piece on Nobel Prize winning author Kenzaburo Oe’s The Changeling, which was translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm and comes out from Grove Press in March.

Will Eells—who is a former Open Letter intern and did a fantastic job reviewing The Housekeeper and the Professor for us some time back—wrote this review, giving the book a very measured and thoughtful response.

Which is all great, but holy crap! Grove got a new website! One that works. One that has individual book pages, is easy to search, and, although maybe a bit cluttered, presents some damn good information about their titles. Well done! (Hey—is anyone at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt reading this? See—it’s possible for a website to make sense!)

Anyway, all that aside, here’s the opening of Will’s review:

Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, has always been a novelist concerned with big, important ideas and big, important problems, and yet his works are always written on a much smaller scale, focusing on that one individual character and how he is affected by the world around him. One may never read a narrative so intimate and personal as Oe’s, which leads to some pretty dark places. It’s like reading someone’s private diary—inherently compelling, but afterwards you’re left with a sick, guilty feeling with the realization that you learned some things that probably should have been well left alone.

Oe has a profoundly honest view of what it is to be human, especially the parts we don’t always like to acknowledge: the selfish, self-destructing, contradictory parts. And Oe seems to achieve this power because his works really are very personal—events from his own life are often the main events of his novels, often with little dress up. Obviously writers draw from personal experience, but Oe’s seem to be the most transparent and forthcoming about the events in his life, for instance the well of novels, including A Personal Matter, that have sprung up because of his handicapped son Hikari.

The Changeling, Oe’s most recently translated novel published by Grove Press, is a work that directly addresses the relationship between fact and fiction in literature. The protagonist of the story is an established sixty-odd year old Japanese author who is sent a case of cassette tapes from his brother-in-law, a friend since their teenage years and now a famous movie director. The tapes are a series of monologues by the brother-in-law, in which he reminisces about their relationship over the years along with ruminations about their mutual artistic endeavors. On the last tape, the brother-in-law cryptically announces that he is now “going to the Other Side”, and then, nothing but a loud thump. And as soon as the protagonist hears this, his wife comes in to tell him that his brother-in-law was found dead—he had committed suicide by jumping off the roof of his office building.

Click here for the full review.



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