Cover image for Death by water
Title:
Death by water
Author:
Ōe, Kenzaburō, 1935- author.
Uniform Title:
Suishi. English
Edition:
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2015]

©2015
Physical Description:
424 pages ; 24 cm
Summary:
"[Kogito Choko] returns to his hometown village in search of a red suitcase rumored to hold documents revealing the details of his father's death during World War II, details that will serve as the foundation for his new, and final, novel. Since his youth, renowned novelist Kogito Choko planned to fictionalize his father's fatal drowning in order to fully process the loss. Stricken with guilt and regret over his failure to rescue his father, Choko has long been driven to discover why his father was boating on the river in a torrential storm. Though he remembers overhearing his father and a group of soldiers discussing an insurgent scheme to stage a suicide attack on Emperor Mikado, Choko cannot separate his memories from imagination and his family is hesitant to reveal the entire story. When the contents of the trunk turn out to offer little clarity, Choko abandons the novel in creative despair. Floundering as an artist, he's haunted by fear that he may never write his tour de force. But when he collaborates with an avant-garde theater troupe dramatizing his early novels, Choko is revitalized by revisiting his formative work and he finds the will to continue investigating his father's demise" --
General Note:
First published as Suishi by Kodansha in 2009.--t.p. verso.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780802124012
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Kenzaburo Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for creating "an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today." In Death by Water , his recurring protagonist and literary alter-ego returns to his hometown village in search of a red suitcase fabled to hold documents revealing the details of his father's death during WWII: details that will serve as the foundation for his new, and final, novel.

Since his youth, renowned novelist Kogito Choko planned to fictionalize his father's fatal drowning in order to fully process the loss. Stricken with guilt and regret over his failure to rescue his father, Choko has long been driven to discover why his father was boating on the river in a torrential storm. Though he remembers overhearing his father and a group of soldiers discussing an insurgent scheme to stage a suicide attack on Emperor Mikado, Choko cannot separate his memories fromimagination and his family is hesitant to reveal the entire story. When the contents of the trunk turn out to offer little clarity, Choko abandons the novel in creative despair. Floundering as an artist, he's haunted by fear that he may never write his tour de force. But when he collaborates with an avant-garde theater troupe dramatizing his early novels, Kogito is revitalized by revisiting his formative work and he finds the will to continue investigating his father's demise.

Diving into the turbulent depths of legacy and mortality, Death by Water is an exquisite examination of resurfacing national and personal trauma, and the ways that storytelling can mend political, social, and familial rifts.


Author Notes

Kenzaburo Oe was born on January 31, 1935. He was born in a small village on the island of Shikoku, Japan. A winner of numerous Japanese literary prizes, Oe came to manhood during World War II and the occupation. At Tokyo University, Oe studied Jean-Paul Sartre and absorbed many popular leftist ideas. These influences appear in his early writings, which often deal with contemporary issues. With the birth of his deformed son, father and son became the new focus of his work. In his two books, A Personal Matter (1964) and A Healing Family (1996), Oe describes the pain involved with accepting his brain-damaged son and the small victories involved their lives as his son progressed. In 1994, Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* It's taken six years for this big novel by Japanese Nobel laureate Oe (The Changeling, 2010) to reach Anglophone readers, but that wait has been for something immensely worthwhile, the story of another novel's demise for lack of documentation and the revival of a frustrated earlier work by the same author, a movie, as an agitprop drama. The author of failed novel, movie, drama, and this book alike is Oe's alter ego, Kogito Choko, whose family members and friends correspond to Oe's. Death by Water is as novelistic as autobiographical, not recollection or reportage but art. The abortive novel is about Choko's father's traumatizing demise in the waning months of WWII, the play about the tragic aftermath of a successful uprising by women and children against the oppressive Meiji government in Choko's ancestral homeland. As the novel comes to naught and the play takes shape, Choko is afflicted by vertigo, has a horrific falling-out with his mentally disabled son, forms deep friendships with two women in the theater group developing the play, and reencounters an old family friend who dispels the mysteries of his father's death. This novel, teeming with crises and disclosures, proceeds almost exclusively via conversation made up of intricate, literarily and dramaturgically knowledgeable, politically progressive, long speeches. And it is enchanting.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Layered and reflexive, Nobel winner Oe's (The Changeling) novel concerns itself with an elderly writer, Kogito Choko, whose inability to write "the drowning novel," a fictional account of his father's death by drowning, threatens both his health and his plans to provide for his family after his death. As a child, Choko-then called Kogii-witnessed his father's ill-fated boat trip in the Shikoku forest region of his childhood. When he revisits the forests and delves into the area's history and folklore at his sister Asa's invitation, he discovers not only other witnesses to his father's voyage-including a nationalist former disciple of his dad's-but that "the materials in the red leather trunk" required for his research were destroyed by his mother long ago. Bereft, Choko finds himself cooperating with an experimental theater troupe, who wish to adapt his body of work for the stage using the visionary Unaiko's "throwing the dead dogs" method, whereupon meta-narrative discussion and the throwing of stuffed dogs occur on stage. Choko's disappointment over the uselessness of the red leather trunk's contents drives him to lash out at his adult, intellectually disabled composer son, Akari, and when his wife, Chikashi, undergoes treatment for a serious illness, she's most concerned about this unprecedented rift between father and son. Told in echoing and overlapping accounts of conversations, telephone calls, and stage performances, Oe's deceptively tranquil idiom scans the violent history of postwar Japan and its present-day manifestations, in the end finding redemption. Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Kogito Choko, an aging writer of international renown, is still grappling with the drowning death of his ultranationalist father during World War II. His controlling sister Asa possesses a red leather trunk that Choko believes holds the key to their father's death and the nucleus of his own final novel. When the contents of the trunk prove disappointing, Choko abandons his book, succumbing to a depression exacerbated by his wife's illness and an emotional split from his adult son, who suffers from learning disabilities. After a contrived meeting with the actress Unaiko, Choko partners with her avant-garde theatrical troupe, examining his earlier oeuvre, a political mind-set shaped by war, a career plagued by censorship yet resulting in a Nobel Prize, and the tragedy of a son who was born with severe limitations but is able to compose glorious music. Oe is known for obscuring the lines between reality and fiction, but here that practice feels self-indulgent. The didactic, hectoring style detracts from a narrative that should be thoughtfully introspective. Could it be that the graceful prose one would expect from a Nobel laureate has been lost in translation? verdict Originally published in Japan in 2009, this is the fifth in a series that began with The Changeling. The subject matter, familiar to Oe's followers, may not satisfy general fiction readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/15.]-Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.