Stephen Durrant's Reviews > Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!: A Novel

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! by Kenzaburō Ōe
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Jun 21, 2009

it was amazing

Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote this novel in 1986, but it was only translated and published in 2002. To appreciate "Rouse Up" fully, one must know that Oe has a seriously brain-damaged son, Hikari, who is also a musical prodigy. In fact, some describe "Rouse Up" as "semi-autobiographical," although the translator John Nathan notes in his brief but helpful "postface," that simply equating the narrator to Oe and Eeyore, the brain-damaged child, to Oe's son Hikari is an error. Still, Oe seems to me to be using his novel, however the details might diverge from his own situation, to think through his relationship to Hikari and to find some redemption for himself and his family in an extremely difficult and painful situation. The medium for this redemption is the poetry of William Blake, for which the narrator has a lifelong obsession. Blake constructed a mythology of great imagination and believed, furthermore, that imagination is "Human Existence itself" (from "Milton"). Oe's narrator deploys his own imagination to think about his son through Blake's words and metaphors and rediscovers Eeyore not as a family burden but as a deeply affecting and even heroic figure--one of the "Young Men of the New Age." This novel will not appeal to everyone's taste. It is neither a work of grandiloquence nor of deep philosophy, and it meanders, sometimes in a rather flat style, back and forth in time linking events together in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. However, I found Oe's narrator's style perfectly positioned between Blake's lofty poetic rhetoric and Eeyore's flat, simple wisdom. In fact, I had difficulty putting this novel aside, but then I too, in my less significant fashion, have sometimes felt the power of poetry to help us structure and think about our own tangled experience.
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Stephen Durrant Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote this novel in 1986, but it was only translated and published in 2002. To appreciate "Rouse Up" fully, one must know that Oe has a seriously brain-damaged son, Hikari, who is also a musical prodigy. In fact, some describe "Rouse Up" as "semi-autobiographical," although the translator John Nathan notes in his brief but helpful "postface," that simply equating the narrator to Oe and Eeyore, the brain-damaged child, to Oe's son Hikari is an error. Still, Oe seems to me to be using his novel, however the details might diverge from his own situation, to think through his relationship to Hikari and to find some redemption for himself and his family in an extremely difficult and painful situation. The medium for this redemption is the poetry of William Blake, for which the narrator has a lifelong obsession. Blake constructed a mythology of great imagination and believed, furthermore, that imagination is "Human Existence itself" (from "Milton"). Oe's narrator deploys his own imagination to think about his son through Blake's words and metaphors and rediscovers Eeyore not as a family burden but as a deeply affecting and even heroic figure--one of the "Young Men of the New Age." This novel will not appeal to everyone's taste. It is neither a work of grandiloquence nor of deep philosophy, and it meanders, sometimes in a rather flat style, back and forth in time linking events together in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. However, I found Oe's narrator's style perfectly positioned between Blake's lofty poetic rhetoric and Eeyore's flat, simple wisdom. In fact, I had difficulty putting this novel aside, but then I too, in my less significant fashion, have sometimes felt the power of poetry to help us structure and think about our own tangled experience.


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