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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ōe Kenzaburō

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Title: さようなら、私の本よ!
Author: Ōe Kenzaburō
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 482 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Adieu, mon livre ! - France
Sayonara, meine Bücher - Deutschland
¡Adiós, libros mios! - España
  • さようなら、私の本よ! has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating, though almost bizarrely literary-cerebral

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural A 21/12/2012 Rafael Narbona
FAZ . 15/10/2008 I.Hijiya-Kirschnerei
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 14/4/2009 Leopold Federmair
Die Zeit . 18/6/2009 Hubert Winkels

  From the Reviews:
  • "¡Adiós, libros míos! es una novela brillante, más europea que japonesa, pues nunca abandona el terreno de la duda, la perplejidad y el asombro." - Rafael Narbona, El Cultural

  • "Über weite Strecken ist dieses Buch folglich Literatur-Literatur. Es spielt ständig auf andere Literatur an, fremde wie eigene, schmückt sich mit dunklen Zitaten und raunenden Assoziationen und gibt uns dennoch zugleich zu verstehen, dass wir es auch als Kommentar über unsere Zeit lesen sollen. Das aber will diesmal nicht so recht gelingen. (...) Zwar berührt es merkwürdig, zu beobachten, wie sich der Autor Ôe alias Kogito am toten Mishima als geheimem Rivalen abarbeitet, an dem er ja auch im wahren Leben kein gutes Haar lässt. So lesen wir das Buch denn auch eher als eine weitere Selbstoffenbarung des alternden Autors denn als Zeitkritik, die hier kaum je tiefer als wohlfeil-pauschale Feuilleton-Weisheit gräbt." - Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnerei, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Sayonara gehört zu den zahlreichen Büchern japanischer Autoren, die belegen, dass die heutige japanische Erzählliteratur der Gegenwart wenig von japanischer Wirklichkeit wiedergibt, sich stattdessen Szenarien ausdenkt, die diese Wirklichkeit nicht kennt oder sogar ausschliesst. (...) (D)ie Gewalt richtet sich symbolisch gegen den Autor selbst. Shigeru und Kogito bilden ein «Pseudopaar», Pazifist und Terrorist, Faust und Mephisto, Schöpfer und Zerstörer." - Leopold Federmair, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Die Frage nach dem Weiterleben der Zeichen, des symbolischen Aktes dehnt Ōe auch auf das politische Feld aus. Sie lautet konkret: Was bewirkt eine spektakuläre politische Aktion in der Mit- und vor allem in der Nachwelt? (...) Tun oder Denken/Dichten – das ist die wichtigste Frage, in diesem von vielen Motiven, Handlungsfäden und spekulativen Zeichen- und Gesellschaftstheorien durchzogenen Roman. Sie motiviert die action ebenso wie die Romanform selbst. Und sie generiert einen Strom von Fragen. (...) Sayonara, meine Bücher ist ein virtuoses Glasperlenspiel." - Hubert Winkels, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

Note: this review is based on the German translation of さようなら、私の本よ! by Nora Bierich, Sayonara, meine Bücher (2008)

       さようなら、私の本よ! ('Goodbye, my book(s) !') is yet another Ōe -novel centered on his alter-ego character, Kogito Choko. (From their writings to the Nobel Prize, opposition to nuclear weapons, and family-experiences, everything about Kogito closely resembles Ōe.) The novel begins with Kogito having suffered some injuries and recovering in hospital; among his visitors is Shigeru Tsubaki, whom he has known since earliest childhood, has a complicated relationship with, and hasn't seen for years. Shigeru is an architect, working in California, but tells Kogito that he will return to Japan for the summer, and spend it with Kogito in Kita-Karuizawa, at the property where Kogito had summered for some thirty years.
       One of several guiding texts for the novel is T.S.Eliot's Gerontion: when he is back in his library Kogito immediately picks up a treasured bilingual edition of Eliot's poetry. The house Kogito retreats to is one designed by Shigeru (inspired also by the 'Gerontion'-lines: "My house is a decayed house, / And the Jew squats on the window sill, the owner"), and is known as the 'Gerontion'-house; Kogito and his family summered there every summer until they outgrew it, and Kogito had a larger building constructed on the property, the 'Mad Old Man'-house (the name inspired by Yeats).
       Now Shigeru installs himself and a motley crew near and around Kogito, and there are all sorts of discussions about all manners of things, including past and present, Kogito's brother-in-law Goro's suicide (the subject of Ōe's earlier Kogito-novel, The Changeling, and still something very much on Kogito's mind), and literature. So also, Kogito studies Eliot's poetry in detail with one of the summer-guests.
       Kogito's hospital-stay marked a break from a life of constant writing -- and he is uncertain about being able to, or wanting to write fiction again. A project he had been working on was a Robinson-novel -- the name taken from the character in Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit -- and the re(dis)covery of that novel-project, with its narrator-subject dynamic (Bardamu and Robinson) resembling that between Kogito and Shigeru, is a frequent topic of discussion (and mirrored in what the present book becomes: さようなら、私の本よ! is, ultimately, what the Robinson-novel turns into).
       Kogito still feels a strong pull towards literature, and writing -- yet struggles with it. Among Shigeru's projects is, ostensibly, an attempt to dramatize the struggle: early on he maps out a film, featuring the writer who in his youth was influenced by Western literature and whose early work ran counter to the popular Japanese 'I-novel', but in older age only wrote, in typically Japanese style, about his family; Shigeru imagines his ambition to describe one more grand event, the likes of which he had never seen, the author then figuring out how to represent that.
       As it turns out, Shigeru has a rather bigger project in mind -- an event that would make for proper subject-matter, for Kogito or any author. As Kogito eventually figures out from the goings-on around him, Shigeru and his young associates are planning something -- something very ambitious. Shigeru was tremendously moved by the 11 September attacks on the New York World Trade Center, and their collapse -- eager to be present to witness the inevitable, and also certain that the destructive act would have a domino effect. Indeed, his present-day plan is nothing less than the destruction of a Tokyo skyscraper, which he imagines will inspire a whole of wave of similar destruction.
       A longtime professor, Shigeru is a theorist, and one way he justifies his planned actions is through the philosophy of unbuild that he has long espoused: literally de-constructive architecture. (Amusingly, he recognizes that his followers are of a different generation, and that he has to explain his thoughts in 'a simpler language, a manga-style', since they are of a manga-generation.)
       The terrorist plot -- and that's what it is, even as there is no clear political motivation behind it -- is both taken very seriously and yet obviously absurd. When Kogito realizes what is going on he becomes a threat of sorts, and they put him under a sort of house-arrest -- or rather he goes along with it, intrigued enough to continue to engage and watch, rather than make any attempt to alert authorities, or anyone else. When a minor family emergency requires his presence, there's no question of his not going, and though he's accompanied by two of the underlings, they're not very good at keeping tabs on him.
       It's farcical, and yet deadly serious. Shigeru also answers to a mysterious higher authority, as part of some sort of shadowy international conspiracy, and they feel the time is not ripe for an action on the scale he's planning, and they refuse to give him permission to go ahead, a decision he has to accept. But Shigeru merely scales down, and opts for a demonstrative smaller de-construction effort -- blowing up the 'Gerontion'-house. (For a while they considered blowing it up with Kogito inside, but then decided that was a bit over the top .....)
       Kogito is remarkably unperturbed by most of this, and there's astonishingly little confrontation among the many characters, despite some of the outrageous (and also often simply annoying) things going on. (A rare scene of actual confrontation only occurs completely away from Kita-Karuizawa, when the family takes musically gifted son Akari for a medical examination.) Instead, there is lots of relatively calm discussion, even though it is often emotionally raw. Almost everything is treated in a literary way: references -- usually extended -- to a variety of authors, such as Dostoevsky, abound. It's an interesting approach to dealing with extremism -- and turns out to be fairly effective, perhaps especially so since there's only a limited sense of any underlying cause that is being fought for: for the most part, this really is extremism in the most abstract.
       The prime example that comes up is, of course, that of Mishima Yukio, whose own death occurred in circumstances similar to what Shigeru is planning: an extreme act meant to trigger an uprising against the status quo -- though in Shigeru's case, one that is even less clear about its ultimate goals. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of さようなら、私の本よ! is Ōe's treatment of Mishima, with whom he had a complicated relationship, specifically as their professional careers overlapped in the 1960s, Mishima's sudden, early death (he was only ten years older than Ōe) marking a still in many ways unresolved shift in Japanese literature; one senses that for all his dislike of Mishima, Ōe regrets the absence of him as literary- (and perhaps real-)world antagonist.
       While still in hospital, Kogito dreams and recalls translating from the conclusion of Nabokov's The Gift, from which the title of the novel is also taken. The first part of the quote from Nabokov's book reads: "Goodbye, my book ! Like mortal eyes, imagined ones must close some day", and さようなら、私の本よ! is yet another of Ōe's old-age literary engagements with (possibly) letting go of writing -- not just this book, but all books. He goes one step further here, too, in not only considering bidding farewell to any work-in-progress, but also in the culling of his library: さようなら、私の本よ! is disturbingly full of book-destruction. There are treasured French paperbacks that have been damaged by water, a shocking scene of Kogito bundling up the translations of his work that have piled up and setting them aside for recycling (!), and the threat to his entire library with the planned destruction of 'Gerontion'-house.
       さようなら、私の本よ! is indeed a farewell to his books, in many respects -- or at least posits the possibility of farewell: most of the books do survive, after all, and though Kogito questions whether he is even able to write fiction any longer -- 'to tell you the truth, I don't even have the language to write novels any longer', he tells Shigeru in a postscript-chapter some two years after the main action has taken place -- there is, after all, this novel .....
       At the conclusion, Kogito claims he's only reading newspapers -- The New York Times, Le Monde, front to back -- but admits to looking at the titles on his shelves (through opera glasses, as he lies in his bed !). The literary hold remains .....
       It's an odd novel, a striking -- and often comic -- contrast to the loudness of so much modern writing, especially fiction that treats extremism. Some contemporary fiction dealing with similar issues -- not the obvious literary ones, but rather the extremist ones -- relies as much on literary reference as Ōe does here, but rarely is it cerebral in this peculiarly almost-disembodied way (which is all the more striking for being so grounded in the mundane and everyday). Of course, Ōe's concern isn't solely action -- and the novel has a hilarious resolution after the fact (i.,e. bombing), Shigeru enjoying his fame not as a terrorist but as the theorist who easily turns the outcome (of things not going nearly as planned, much less as originally hoped for) to his advantage. As part of Ōe's continuing meditation of writing (in old age) it is also yet another fascinating piece in this larger and ongoing Kogito-series. And, while quite successful in its own right, さようなら、私の本よ! is only a piece of an even larger project (of which Ōe seeks summation in the Kogito-novels, but which extends beyond them), a continuing engagement with Ōe's most vital themes, and the struggle to get a handle on them.
       Strange but intriguing and haunting.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 January 2018

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さようなら、私の本よ!: Reviews: Ōe Kenzaburō: Other books by Ōe Kenzaburō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Ōe Kenzaburō (大江 健三郎) was born in 1935. He was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize.

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