Tony's Reviews > The Ark Sakura

The Ark Sakura by Kōbō Abe
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May 21, 08

bookshelves: fiction
Read in December, 2007

This is a terrifically inventive novel, and an undeniably fun ride which can be finished easily in a day or two. It is immediately recognizable as an Abe work, not only through the narrative voice, but the types of characters and situations depicted as well. In these aspects, there are deep resonances between this and The Box Man, but it expands greatly on the idea of withdrawal from society, which was only peripheral to the central concern of identity in the earlier book.

The protagonist's obsession with impending nuclear apocalypse at first glimpse seems to be a mere reflection of prevailing global sentiment in the 80s (which is when the novel was written, 1984 to be exact), but one cannot forget Japan's own unique position as being the only country actually devastated by atomic warfare - a great deal of Japanese cultural output is still informed by this historical singularity. And one must not fail to see past this veneer and understand that Abe's characters - Mole and Box Man alike - have chosen to confront the alienation inherent to modern society through self-imposed exile, an attempt to retain some agency over their marginal social fate. They are self-judged to be ugly in countenance, stature and soul, and we meet them on the point of their attempted departure from social life, or rather its incompatibility with their particular personal philosophies - which themselves may simply be coping strategies that have grown to the point of monomania.

There's more to be said, but for now I will just note that while the novel is quite rich, it is damaged by a tendency to force-feed its thematics in a rather preachy style at times. While The Box Man accomplished this through the bizarre narrative shifts occurring a little after the first half of the novel, here Abe grinds his axe through Mole's thoughts and speech. Not quite as offensive as when Gombrowicz stops a novel to wax philosophical for a chapter or two, but still a little jarring that he seems to feel the need to spell out what the interplay of characters and situations in the novel seem to do a fairly competent job of articulating on their own.
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