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The Silent Cry (Serpent's Tail Classics) [Paperback]

Kenzaburo Oe , John Bester
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Sep 2011 Serpent's Tail Classics

Two brothers, Takashi and Mitsu, return from Tokyo to the village of their childhood. Selling their family home leads them to an inescapable confrontation with their family history. Their attempt to escape the influence of the city ends in failure as they realize that its tentacles extend to everything in the countryside, including their own relationship.

In 1994, Kenzaburo Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Singling out The Silent Cry, the Nobel Committee stated that 'his poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament'. Kenzaburo Oe is one of the great writers of the century and The Silent Cry is his masterpiece.

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The Silent Cry (Serpent's Tail Classics) + Kokoro (UNESCO Collection of Representative Works) + Some Prefer Nettles (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (22 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846688078
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846688072
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 128,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Somehow - and this is what gives his art such unquestionable stature - Oe manages to smuggle a comic thread in all this tragedy (Independent)

Though thoroughly Japanese, Oe, in the range of hope and despair he covers, seems to me to have in him a touch of Dostoevsky (Henry Miller)

A new pinnacle in postwar Japanese fiction (Yukio Mishima)

Oe piles copious and inventive misery onto his hero before allowing him enlightenment and redemption. (Jake Kerridge Sunday Telegraph 2011-11-06)

Book Description

The key work by the Nobel Prize winner, The Silent Cry encapsulates 'Japanese history, society and politics within a single, tight narrative' (Susan Napier)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Japanese literary classic 16 Oct 2011
By Ripple TOP 100 REVIEWER
Featuring rioting and looting of corporate supermarkets and anger against immigrants, this is a timely re-issue of Nobel Prize for Literature winner's Kenzaburo Óe's 1967 classic "The Silent Cry" which was cited by the Nobel committee as his key work.

One of the quotes on the back of the book observes that there is a "touch of Dostoevsky" in this work which is an accurate comment. If you are a fan of the big Russian classics, then you will find much to enjoy in Óe. The book is introspective and minutely detailed. It's not a book that is easy to dip into. It is irritatingly slow to evolve if you take this approach. Far better to devote a chunk of time to immersing yourself in Óe's world when the hope and despair of his protagonists reveals its full magnitude. There's no doubt it is a dense read, compounded by the fact that the style of presentation in this Serpent's Tail version is very 1960s - small print, densely presented.

The story is narrated by one of two brothers who together return to their childhood village in rural Japan. We learn that the narrator, Mitsu, has fathered a handicapped son who has been taken away to an institution. He is still dealing with the inner feelings of guilt about this when his best friend commits suicide in strange circumstances involving a cucumber stuck where cucumbers are not usually found. There is often a dark and almost grotesque humour that threads through the tragic events in Óe's story. The book also features, for example, "Japan's fattest woman" whose obesity is portrayed in all its magnitude.

Mitsu also suffered an accident as a child which has left him with only one working eye.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Guy
This is not an easy book, and I felt it dragged at times, but I'd still give it a positive review because it really struck a chord and I find myself still thinking about it over a year after reading it.

The story is of two brothers returning to their childhood home, and tracks their two different characters and how one ultimately causes a strange and somewhat futile uprising in the nearby village, which ends tragically. There is a very significant subplot - mostly revealed through the narrator's reminiscences - about the history of the village and the family during the Second World War (which finished only about 20 years before the events of the book) and earlier in the 1860s, which chimes with the themes of the contemporary narrative. It's quite a murky and confusing tale - all is only really revealed at the very end, and even then I wouldn't say the reader comes away with any wholly satisfactory answers.

The themes which come through strongly are family identity, personal responsibility, and a sort of confusion and sense of hopelessness at the state of Japanese culture and society in the sixties. The narrator is by far the more conservative of the two brothers, and epitomises this embarrassed, awkward sort of frustration in much of his life, without ever rebelling like his younger brother does.

It is often considered Oe's greatest work. I have read some of his other novels, and I would agree that despite finding it frustrating, it is a unique work. I really felt it got under my skin as a story. Oe is great at depicting men experiencing complex and perhaps un-reconcileably contradictory emotions. His novels often focus on the man faced with a cruel predicament he struggles to resolve, and perhaps never will. I know that doesn't make this book sound like much fun, but it is a really impressive novel, and well worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not always an easy read, but worth it 10 Aug 2014
I found the beginning somewhat difficult - heavy, with a certain laboured obscurity, quite reflective of sixties mysticism - but am so glad that I persevered. The way Oe weaves time together, the brothers with their ancestors, the community with its past, is nothing short of brilliant. If you find yourself losing heart, keep going
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful work 14 Jan 2009
Kenzaburo Oe writes through a dark personal crisis, where the narrator struggles with his ancestors, close relations, memories of the second world war, self destructive urges and racism to find his moral purpose. As well as these themes, however, Oe portrays rural Japan in fascinating detail and brings this world to life for the reader. Oe deserves his Nobel prize for his insight and humanity.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome landmark of a novel : a masterpiece 12 Jun 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Kenzaburo Oe's "The Silent Cry" is a masterpiece. No two ways about it. It's a dark, complex, and difficult piece of work and not easy to digest unless you have a modicum of knowledge of Japanese socio-economic history. The spirit of revival of the feudal uprising of 1860 is the central motif that renders the dialectical relationship and the unspeakable horror visited upon the two Nedokoro brothers, Mitsu and Takashi, ultimately comprehensible. While radical younger brother Takashi needs to relive the heroic (real or imagined) past of his great granduncle to bring a measure of validity to his own existence, older brother Mitsu's life crumbles when he sires a horribly retarded child whom he institutionalizes and then fails to come to terms with the ritualistic suicide of his best friend. So does Mitsu's marriage to his wife, Natsumi, who takes to the bottle and appears headed for disaster until brother-in-law Takashi imbues her with fire and converts her to his cause. But there's no happy ending and she's cruelly let down. Takashi's rabid vendetta against the Emperor, the Korean supermarketeer, and his cruelty towards his disciples is a perversion in his search for truth. Mitsu's inability to break out of his self imposed inner exile, his refusal to connect with the past and his corrosive negativism poisons everything about him, including his marriage to Natsumi, which is wryly but painfully observed. Oe employs the imagery of the dark encroaching forest over the valley to evoke a dangerous sense of foreboding that builds to a shattering climax when shocking family secrets are revealed but there's no relief, forgiveness or healing in the aftermath. Nevertheless, Oe avoids an entirely downbeat ending by pulling off a stunning surprise that forces Mitsu to re-examine and give his life another go. The ritualistic suicide of Mitsu's friend is the dramatic manifestation of the "silent cry" of truth he finds unutterable. At another level, "The Silent Cry" can be read as a study of an insular nation coping with the rising tide of foreign influences that threatens the old way of life. It's incredibly rich in its treatment of a universal theme that will guarantee its relevance forever. Oe writes with a rare intensity that perfectly captures the strangeness and beauty of the Japanese psyche. It's an awesome landmark of a novel that no serious lover of literature can afford to miss. Some may find "The Silent Cry" a dark and disturbing piece of work. Perhaps it is. But it's essential reading.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird and wonderful surreal tragi-comedy 24 Jun 2001
By Ian Muldoon - Published on
It has been said by some that to know a country is to read its novels; far better than to read its (manufactured) history. Novels too are manufactured but novels are more likely to expose the emotional and spiritual "truth" of the country concerned. In THE SILENT CRY the writer OE covers much historical, emotional, social, Japanese ground but does it in such a way as to make it a wonderfully entertaining journey for the reader. I for one would love to read a Freudian criticism of it. For example, a recurring motif is suicide, in various forms, one being hanging and that image is conveyed by a the anti-hero's best friend who removed all his clothes, painted his head red, shoved a cucumber up his arse and then hanged himself; another being the anti-hero's brother who shot himself in the head the remains of which reminded the brother of a pomegranate. Such vivid imagery recurs throughout this novel. Another distinguishing feature of it is its lack of cliches, its almost poetic prose, poetic in the sense of dense. You daren't skip a phrase let alone a line. It is a rich read. Historically, the novel covers the transition from an agrarian village life to the impact of the supermarket, racism, the vulnerability of the Japanese economy (this written in 1966- in 2001 have the Japanese finally faced up to real economic reform?)foreigners, and on the cover, an artistic representation of the Hiroshima ground zero. The one-eyed hero is self-effacing and has an alcoholic wife, retarded son and is a cuckold. His brother is vain, hostile, proud, an adulterer who has sex with his retarded sister. It is true that it is reminiscent of the Cain and Abel story or the Brothers Karamazov and I think it deserves mention in that mythical company. Its themes that resonate with me most tellingly are the need for one and one's country to come to terms with the truth about the past. The anti-hero Mitsu is on a search for the "truth" throughout the novel.As an individual I need to come to terms with my mother's suicide as well as other aspects of my personal history. As an Australian, my nation needs to come to terms with its past and our genocidal attitude to Aboriginal Australians. The second theme for me is that constant internal worrying and guilt can be self-defeating - at the close of the novel Mitsu feels "throughout the time remaining to me..a hundred pairs of eyes (of his cat, of his great grandfather, brother, wife) would glitter like a chain of stars in the night of my experience. And I would live on, suffering agonies of shame under the light of those stars, peering out timidly like a rat, with my single eye, at a dim and equivocal outer world..."(p.269) Yet, at the urging of his now pregnant wife, he chooses to accept a job in Africa instead of a job at a University, symbolic I would guess of his need to accept the past come to terms with it and get on with living, for some sort of peace. Survival becomes the key to that peace. Its weird at the end too because despite all the preceding horrors, the novel's ending creates in the reader a wry grin or satisfying chuckle as the anti-hero realises with his new job he may be able to achieve an important personal goal - building a thatched hut.A memorable read.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Apex of postmodern literature 23 Aug 1998
By - Published on
The Silent Cry is Oe's triumph. It questions the stories and histories that build our identity. In the story we learn that what really happened in the past is not nearly as important as what people think happened, and the lies our myths perpetuate. We are at the mercy of our history. We are controlled, not by the Gods, but by the stories of our past.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece 8 Sep 1997
By A Customer - Published on
This novel is indeed a masterpiece. Oe shows why he's a revered writer. The book, which is told through the eyes of Mitsu, who seems to be searching not only for peace of mind but also closure to several tragic but unresolved happenings in his life. Oe continues to pull us in with the introduction of several very interesting characters and events including a riot among the village peasants. It builds almost invisibly to a crescendo and a remarkable end. This book is a masterpiece
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Football in the Year 1860 10 Aug 2008
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on
The American edition of Oe's novel may be called "The Silent Cry," but a more accurate translation of the title would be "Football in the Year 1860 [or the Man'an era]," the year Ii Naosuke, famous for brokering a commercial treaty with the U.S., was assassinated by a group of samurai loyal to the Emperor. It is also the year, in the novel, when the great-granduncle of two brothers, Mitsusaburo and Takashi, led a peasant revolt in their ancestral village.

The decision to discard a more literal translation masks what Oe is trying to do here, as he continues to pile on parallels between 1860 and the early 1960s, when this novel is set. Favoring historical symbolism and mythological surrealism, the novel defies a summary that would make much sense to the reader. A skeletal outline would describe the rivalry between Mitsusaburo, who has left his handicapped child in an institution and returned to his childhood home with his alcoholic wife, and his younger brother Takashi, recently returned from America, who "seems to want his actions influenced by the 1860 affair."

Takashi idealizes the embroidered family legends of heroism and leadership, and he arrays the village youth into a cult-like group to challenge the hegemony of a local business magnate known, not coincidentally, as "the Emperor." The story is filled with grotesqueries and violence, from the opening description of a friend's suicide (which is presented in a disconcertingly risible manner) to the rape and death of a local girl (an event that Mitsusaburo believes is invented) to Mitsusaburo's apparent nonchalance when he realizes that Takashi is sleeping with his wife.

The result is a tale of Freudian weirdness in a claustrophobic mountain village that might remind readers of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Among Oe's works, it's not as accessible (nor, in my view, as good) as "A Personal Matter" and stories like "Prize Stock" or "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness." But, in spite of its outmoded surrealism, there's something compelling and fascinating about the deranged rivalry between the two brothers who hijack the attention of this peculiar, mythical community.
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