A Personal Matter
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Kenzaburo Oe, the winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, is internationally acclaimed as one of the most important and influential post-World War II writers, known for his powerful accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and his own struggle to come to terms with a mentally handicapped son. The Swedish Academy lauded Oe for his "poetic force [that] creates an imagined world where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."
His most popular book, A Personal Matter is the story of Bird, a frustrated intellectual in a failing marriage whose Utopian dream is shattered when his wife gives birth to a brain-damaged child.
unusual name: Himiko—fire-sighting-child. Bird had answered, correctly, that the name was taken from the Chronicles of the ancient province of Higo—The Emperor commanded his oarsmen, saying: There in the distance a signal fire burns; make for it straightaway. After that, Bird and the girl Himiko from the island of Kyushu had become friends. There were very few girls at Bird’s university, only a handful in the liberal arts who had come to Tokyo from the provinces; and all of those, as far as Bird
the type of man younger men tend to idolize. Haven’t you ever been to bed with one of those younger brothers?” The plan Himiko outlined was more than sufficient to overcome Bird’s own fastidiousness about sexual morality. Bird was stunned. Never mind how it would be for me, he thought, released for just an instant from preoccupation with himself. Himiko would have to endure considerable pain, probably her body would tear and she would bleed: we both might be smeared in filth! But suddenly,
myself that my hands were clean while I wait impatiently for my baby to die when I’m not around, certainly that would be dishonest,” Bird said in denial. “But I know perfectly well that I’ll be responsible for the baby’s death.” “I wonder about that, Bird,” the woman producer said in utter disbelief. “I’m afraid you’ll find yourself in all kinds of trouble the minute the baby dies, that’s the penalty you’ll pay for having deceived yourself. And it’s then that Himiko will really have to keep a
a surge of joy: Mr. Delchef was the only tenant in the building with the wholesome good sense to leave his door open as a measure against the heat. Bird propped his shoes against the wall in the hallway and then shook hands with Mr. Delchef, who was beaming at him from just inside the door. Like a marathon runner, he wore only a pair of blue shorts and an undershirt; his red hair was cropped short but he sported a bushy and expectably reddish mustache. Bird could find nothing to indicate that
reached for the glass of whisky that had been poured for him and, feeling something tighten in his chest, hesitated. Kikuhiko—he can’t be more than twenty-two yet he looks like a more formidable adult than I; on the other hand, he seems to have retained a lot of what he was at fifteen—Kikuhiko, like an amphibian at home in two ages. Kikuhiko was drinking straight whisky, too. He poured himself another drink, and one for Himiko, who had emptied her first glass in a swallow. Bird found himself