introduction is very interesting and provides some useful culture context information.
I previously posted on his long short story Prize Stock One of my goals is to read a number of types and genres of Japanese prose works. At 110 pages most would classify this work as a novella.
The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears is an exceedingly bizarre narrative by a 35 year old man lying in a hospital bed wearing underwater goggles covered in cellophane. This man, whose name we never learn, may or may not have cancer but he believes and seriously hopes he does. For sure this is the strangest work I have read for the challenge. The narrator is unreliable. His perception and memory of past events are at best confused. The novel is set in hospital in post war Tokyo. Maybe the narrator saw too much at too young an age and it drove him mad. Something for sure did! At more than one point in the
work I felt like yelling out to him "What are you crazy or something?" I simply have to quote a bit of the opening few lines of the book
"Deep one night he was trimming his nose that would never walk again into sunlight atop living legs, busilyfeeling each hair with a Rotex rotary nostril clipper as if to make the nostrils as bare as a monkey's, when suddenly a man, perhaps escaped from the mental ward..or perhaps a lunatic who happened to be passing with a body abnormally small and meagre for a man save only for a face as round as a Dharma's and covered in hair, set down on the edge of his bed and shouted, foaming, What in God's name are you? WHAT?...I'm cancer, cancer LIVER CANCER it is me".
In the world of this book, passing lunatics screaming the truth at us, or is it, perfectly ordinary. When one is possibly dying of cancer, of course, your top priority might be to trim your nose hairs.
The vast majority of the work consists of an interior monologue spoken out loud.. For brief periods the person who the narrator has designated as the administrator of his will comment on the monologue and once and a while even his mother has a comment or two to make. He flashes back in time from the times of the Japanese Invasion of Manchuria (where someone very important to him may have been killed-maybe his brother or stepbrother), to the period right after the Emperor of Japan in August of 1945 came on the radio and advised the Japanese people he was not a god . As conveyed indirectly in The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears this affects the narrator and the Japan as a culture much as if the Pope were to say he had been advised by God to inform the people of the world that Christianity was a fraud. Perhaps the impact was worse as the Emperor of Japan was seen as divine himself. He himself was seen as God, not God's messenger. The more one believes in old ways the harder is becomes to accept new ones.
Through out the narrative we hear about "a certain person" who may be the narrator's brother or step- brother. He may have died a hero's death in Manchuria or he may be a deserter hiding away while plotting to kill the Emperor. Just to muddy the waters a bit more, the Emperor may also be confused at times with the narrator' s father. He seems never to have known his father. Here is how the narrator sees his cancer, real or not
"When he began to feel cancer growing in his body cavity with the vigor of fermenting malt...his cancer appeared to him as a flourishing bed of yellow hyacinths or possibly chrysanthemums bathed in a faint, purple light."
Everything matters in this narrative. It seems as carefully crafted as a work of Flaubert. Hyacinths grow with extreme rapidity and chrysanthemums are sacred to the Emperor.
Here are some words from the administrator about another chrysanthemum
"blind to all things in reality but the colossal chrysanthemum topped with a purple aurora illuminates thedarkness behind his closed lids more radiantly than any light he has ever seen".
Maybe we know now why he wears underwater goggles with cellophane on them.
Part of the story is about the narrator's hatred of his mother which seems s to stem either from her preference for his brother or issues with the narrator's never seen by him father. We learn enough about the narrator to partially reconstruct his interior world.
"My mother was isolated...from the days those ashes returned...she began to ignore every man, woman and child in the valley even when they were right under her nose. Which left me, a kid to run around the valley..collecting our rations ...and making sure a certain party, who was gradually becoming obsessive over his food, had enough to eat."
The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears feels like as you read it.
This book is about a lot of things and it is about itself. It is about loss of faith, feelings of profound loss,
survivor's guilt, and the destruction of old values. We feel the effects of the war everywhere.
The Japanese culture provided no role models or cultural archetypes to help them cope with what could not happen, total defeat.
There is a long established literary tradition of using the insane to say what cannot be accepted by those in fully sunlit worlds. The narrator of The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears has very deep roots in western culture. His ancestors were in the plays of Euripides, his great grandfather was Dostoevsky's underground man, he speaks through Crazy Jane. Oe has stated that he has come to understand the meaning of his own works through reading the poetry of William Butler Yeats.
I do not mean to convey that The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears is a closed work that cannot be enjoyed or even followed without great effort. It can be enjoyed just as a narrative of a crazy person. As such we will pick up a lot about the aftereffects of the war on Japan. We will see how the Japanese people felt when they heard the Emperor speak on the radio, and we will learn something about the home front in rural Japan. The book is also funny-imagine the very straight laced executor of the narrator's estate being threatened with the loss of his work as administrator of the narrator's estate (who appears to have nothing to pass along anyway and probably is not going to die soon either) by a man in underwater goggles.
My first judgment is that Oe is as deep as the Russians and as careful as Proust and Flaubert and knows as much about people as Dickens.