A Quiet Life – Kenzaburo Oe
December 28, 2009 § 6 Comments
I don’t know how many billion people are walking this planet today, but those who have religion are, I think, a small minority. Multitudes of nobodies live and end their lives without faith, and without any solid assurance of what happens to our souls after we die.
A Quiet Life is narrated by Ma-chan, a twenty year old girl. When her father, a novelist, goes off to California because of a ‘pinch’ that he is facing, her mother goes along with him to make sure that nothing untoward happens. This suddenly leaves Ma-chan the temporary head of the family, responsible for both Eeyore, her mentally-handicapped older brother, and O-Chan, her go-it-alone younger brother.
The description on the cover jacket says this is a Japanese “I”-novel, a blend of the real with the imagined, memoir with fiction. And it seems that this is true for most of Oe’s work. Eeyore is very much like his own son, Hikaru, both mentally handicapped, but amazingly talented in music. In the book, the father, referred to as K (perhaps K for Kenzaburo?) is described as someone particularly protective of Eeyore, so much to the extent of somewhat neglecting Ma-chan. This creates a tension between father and daughter, but ironically, Ma-chan probably followed her father’s footsteps closest, as she is the only one who picked up literature.
Because the story is narrated by Ma-chan, I found it especially interesting how she viewed her father, and what she thought of his actions. She specifically mentions that her decision to take up literature was not influenced by her father, but even as she says that, her own story then negates her conviction. Could it be that she was trying to find a connection to her father through literature? I’ve heard that typically, daughters are especially close to their fathers (as it also is in my case). It’s not easy to shrug off a father’s influence, especially if the father is one who listens and cares for his daughter’s questions and thoughts.
Oe also dwells on some rather deep, thinking issues, otherwise known as matters of the soul. There is mention of not only the Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ (of which I know almost nothing about..), but also about rebirth, whether there even is such a thing, and if there is, what would it be like?
I don’t feel that if I forget this existence, I’m going to turn into nothing. Rather, I find it comfortable to think that, after being reborn, I won’t remember anything of my previous life; and during this lifetime, I’ll never know what form of life I’m going to assume next time around…
A Quiet Life is not a plot-heavy story. In fact, perhaps there is little to suggest a story-line at all. What the book does deliver is a certain affection for the characters within it. Almost all the characters feel like they have been delicately crafted with a lot of love and patience down to the very last detail, and reading the book is like getting to know them up close.
P.S. Mark David at Absorbed in Words wrote a great review on this book a few months back. It was his review that prompted my picking it up at the library.
Challenges: Japanese Literature Challenge 3, Lost in Translation 2009