Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age" by Kenzaburo Oe

 Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!  (translated from Japanese by John Nathan, 258 pages, 1986)  is the seventh work by Kenzaburo Oe that I have read.   In every post I have tried to voice my great respect and admiration for the work of Oe.

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!  makes use of a story line that very much mirrors the life of Oe.   It centers on his relationship with his brain damaged son and his life time love for the poetry of William Blake.   The book can be seen almost as a commentary on the Prophetic Books of Blake.    Oe is not simply reminded of Blake's poetry by events in his life but he sees his life through Blake's poetry.   I was very touched by the moment in the book when the narrator tells us of the time he came to realize he would be reading the poetry of Blake the rest of his life.  Oe talks not only about the poetry but about learned works on the Prophetic Books of Blake.   The narrator, who we can call Oe (normally I resist reading first person narratives autobiographically but in this case we have no choice) recalls an incident during WWII when a Japanese Army officer ordered his father (too old for military service) to demonstrate how a machine that strips bark from trees works.  (That was the Oe family business.)   The machine was meant to be run by two strong young men.   The father was ordered to work it by the very abusive army officer.   Barely able to control his anger the father demonstrates the machine in use.   Oe tells us how the emotional and physical stress of this event brought on the early death of his father.   He then related this to an incident in which William Blake and his wife have a conflict with a military officer over the political views of Blake and Blake is arrested for a physical attack on the officer.   Oe gives a very honest account of his relationship with his mentally handicapped son, his wife, and his other two children.  

If you are a reader of Blake, I think you will love this book.  It has been many years since I read the poetry of Blake.   Now I want to reread all his poems through the insight I gained from Oe.    I recalled as I was reading it how moved I was when I saw some twenty years ago original engravings by Blake (at the Tate Museum) in illustration of his longer Poems such as "Milton".

Grove Press has published 12 works of fiction by Oe and 3 of nonfiction.   They are publishing another of his novels in March 2010.   It looks like 0e has written well over 50 books.   I hope eventually we have access to at least all his fiction.   He is firmly on my "Read everything they have written list" (or in this case all that has been translated).

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age  is a very original work.   In his treatment of his handicapped son he portrays the issues of dealing with a handicapped adult son bigger and stronger than him in a very open fashion.    As I have tried to say before, the novels, stories and essays of Oe show original wisdom being produced.   Oe is not a Christian and does not speak directly of religion on many occasions though he does speak of God.   He does in Hiroshima Notes speak of his great admiration for an elderly female bomb survivor who is able to live out her life without an over-riding credo by which to see the world, even in the face of horrible suffering.  The book is also a fun read.   We see Oe with his family and we see a wife not afraid to tell off her Nobel Prize winning husband when she feels he has it coming. 

A link to all my posts on Japanese Literature is here


Suko said...

I can't believe you've read SEVEN works by Oe! This one sounds as intriguing as can be. I'm determined to read some Oe in 2010.

Clever way you link to all your Japanese posts. I hope Bellezza takes note of this. :)

Elegant "wallpaper" background.

me. said...

Maybe this book isn't seen as one of Oe's major works,but this book really stayed with me after i read it.I thought Oe's relationship with his son was deftly conveyed,really moved me at times,and of course Oe's fascination with Blake and Mishima was of interest,think i'm going to watch the film of 'A Quiet Life' next week.I really must get round to reading another one of Oe's books soon.

Arti said...

I've just finished my first Oe book, Rouse Up... and I think it's brilliant! I've linked your blog to my post because what you have here is just amazing. The extent of all the authors you've covered and especially of Oe's works. Thanks for creating such a wonderful site!