Taking its title from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Oe’s strongly autobiographical novel — published in 2009 at the age of 74 — sees his elderly fictional alter ego, Kogito Choko, return to his native Matsuyama, in Ehime Prefecture, to write a long-deferred work (simply known as “The Drowning Novel”) about his father’s mysterious death in the last days of World War II.
GROVE PRESS, Fiction.
Kogito’s father had been a sympathizer to ultranationalist sentiment and appears to have been involved in a violent plot to frustrate Japan’s admission of defeat. This knowledge entices his son — an ardent supporter of postwar democracy — to probe both the psychology of his father and the tormented history of his own nation.
Kogito engages in lengthy conversations with members of a theatrical group attempting to put a condensed version of his entire life’s work on the stage. Meanwhile the much-anticipated opening of a red leather trunk, supposedly containing the secrets of his father’s demise, is revealed to be disappointingly insubstantial.
Written in dialogue with Oe’s own, earlier works on similar subjects — the novella “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away” (1972) is repeatedly referenced — and richly interlaced with meditations on the interactions of dream, memory, myth and perception, this novel is a careful, multilayered contemplation on the methodology and potential of art itself.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.
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