Intelligent man is the initial phrase that comes to my mind when I also hear the author’s name, Kenzaburo Oe. Never acquainted with his work before, I picked up his book, The Changling, at the Place de la Madeleine in Genève last year. The plot of the book itself is not intricate as The Cloud Atlas, nor does the prose take time to become accustomed to read such as José Saramago’s Blindness.
Beginning with the suicide of filmmaker, Goro Hanawa, his best friend and novelist, Kogito Choko, learns of it via an audiotape Goro recorded for him:
I’m going to head over to the Other Side now.
The plot seems similar to Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending — which I wrote about in the previous blog post — in that Kogito then goes through an extended journey down memory lane about his friendship with Goro. Following Kogito’s analysis of the past there are broad stories and stories that seem like minor incidents, but turn out not to be minor after all.
Oe’s intelligence shines not only through the ideas he presents, but also through the multitude of literary allusions — and I had an inkling that Oe expects his readers to be as intelligent as himself. I am not; and therefore, I felt it necessary to discover what exactly Oe was referring to during several points of my reading. For example, I did not understand why the name Kogito is derived from a coined phrase of Descartes nor did I know what Frida Kahlo painting Kogito was thinking of when he mentioned “Hospital Henry Ford”. Educating myself took time and patience while reading The Changling.
Thankfully, Kogito’s wife (and Goro’s sister), Chikashi becomes the narrator at the end of The Changling because it seemed to be a summation of the layered memories outlined by Kogito.
Nevertheless, I was so stupefied and fascinated about the intelligence conveyed through Oe’s book that I usually find it simple to correlate aspects of a book with one of my blog-post-ideas-stockpile, but for this case it was difficult. For this reason, I will share some excerpts from The Changeling and mention what blog topic I was thinking of utilizing for this read.
In regards to the “Other Side” when people die: In terms of space and time, was it completely different from the world on this side? And when you were there, looking back across the existential divide, would that very fact of your death on this side be nullified, as if you had never died at all?
Autumn already! — But why regret the everlasting sun, if we are sworn to a search for divine brightness, far from those who die as seasons turn. (Adieu by Rimbaud)
He pictured himself sitting there in front of his bevy of books, with a red heart beating inside his skull. From one pulsating valve of this cerebral heart, a Medusa-profusion of small blood vessels came snaking out of his head toward the bookshelves. If he looked closely at those blood vessels, one by one, he could see that each of them was connected to a particular volume on the shift. He felt a deep sense of relief in knowing that he was connected with all those books through the medium of blood vessels, but that sense of reassurance went hand in hand with a sorrowful feeling of loss.
Chikashi had an epiphany: This girl in the book, this Ida — she’s me!…Chikashi had a profound sense that the picture book was telling her a number of important things about her own life…the more she read and reread this uncanny picture book, the more certain Chikashi felt that she was Ida, and Ida was herself.
I hope this post did not seem as if reading The Changling is a daunting task. If you enjoy reading Murakami, I recommend trying Oe.
Current read: Slowness by Milan Kundera