The Japanese Literature III Challenge. Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in 1994, is the seventh
literary artist whose work I have so far posted on for the challenge.
Price Stock center of attention is an American soldier taken captive in a rural village in Japan in WWII.
It is the fifth work I have posted on for the War Through the Generations: WWII Reading Challenge, and the first one dealing with the Japanese experience during WWII.
Price Stock (some times translated as The Catch) depicts an utterly different world than that
conveyed to us in The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata, Japan's other Nobel Laureate.
(My previous review for the challenge was The Old Capital.) The Old Capital sets forth elements of a society with traditions and beliefs that go back to ancient roots that only the most cultivated can hope to understand. A life time can be spent debating the beauty of varying kimono styles. Price Stock takes us
quickly into a very different ugly violent world where racism is the norm, sexual abuse of children is seen as a fitting subject for a joke, and no one has any authority over anything that does not come from the power to harm.
The story takes place in a small isolated rural village in Japan during WWII. All we see in the village are children, early teens, women and the elderly. The men who would have ruled the village only a few years ago and kept traditions in tact are all gone. Some times the story shows things so crazy happening I had to read it more than once to be sure I was reading it correctly. One day something huge happens. An enemy plane
crashes near the village. Everybody rushes to the crash sight. They find two dead soldiers and one living one, a black man. The villagers place a bear trap on a chain on one of his legs and take him to a cellar to be locked up. Here is how the narrator, an early teen age boy (any older and he is off to war) sees the captive-
"With the other children I ran out to greet them, and saw a large black man surrounded by adults. Fear struck me like a fist". No one in the village has ever seen a black man before. The village elders debate about what to do with him-"Until we know what to do what the town thinks, rear him. Rear him like an animal". They decide they need to feed him, they call him "The Catch". Here is the narrator's description of part of this feeding process-"Then the bottle was tipped, the black soldier's thick rubbery lips opened, large white teeth aligned like parts inside a machine were exposed, and I saw milk flowing back into a vast, pink, glistening mouth". The view of the prisoner begins to change-"I began to perceive him as a gentle animal, an obedient animal--the black soldier was as gentle as domestic animal". They take the bear trap from his leg and begin to take him for walks around the area. "To us the black soldier was a rare and wonderful domestic animal, an animal of genius". Things can change fast-"a black beast that rejected understanding".
The story is told in a flat way. Events unfold in an exciting and unexpected way. The war is not spoken about a lot. It is just a normal part of their lives to always have it in the background. The massive bombing is a thing largely for town dwellers to worry about. The war is a backdrop.
Savage and funny things happen in this story. We end up kind of liking the narrator. We never get to know the soldier at all. Price Stock is to me a brilliant story of the dehumanization of the other and the corrosive power of war. I endorse it without reservation as a supreme example of the art of the story teller.
It appears in a collection of four of Mr. Oe's works, in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (translated and with a very informative introduction by John Nathan). I am in the process of reading another of the stories, a work that would be classified as novel of 110 pages or so. It is very strange is all I will say for now.