The Silent Cry

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9780870112324: The Silent Cry

A man in search of his identity becomes caught in a vortex of sexuality and violence.

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About the Author:


KENZABURO OE was born in 1935 in a village in Shikoku, an island off the southwest coast of mainland Japan. After studying French literature at Tokyo University, he won his first literary award-the coveted Akutagawa Prize-for a short story, "The Catch." A writer committed to both literary and humanitarian causes, his output has included (in English) A Personal Matter, The Silent Cry, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, The Pinch Runner Memorandum, and Nip the Buds, Kill the Kids. These and other works of his have been widely translated, not only in Europe and Russia but in several Asian countries.

Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in 1994, lives in Tokyo with his wife and three children.

The translator, JOHN BESTER, is one of the foremost translators of Japanese fiction. In 1990 he received the first Noma Translation Award for his English version of a short-story collection by Yukio Mishima entitled Acts of Worship.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"Why don't you try some water instead?" I urged her. "There's a spring here that the valley folk say gives the best water in the whole forest. That's if it hasn't dried up."

It hadn't dried up. At the foot of the slope on the forest side of the road, an unexpected outflow of water formed a pool about as big as the circle of a man's arms. The water--too copious, almost, to have sprung from such small beginnings--made a channel that ran down to the valley. Beside the pool stood a number of outdoor hearths, some new, some old, the clay and stones charred black and hideous inside. In my childhood, my friends and I had built just such a hearth by the spring, and cooked rice and made soup there. In a twice-yearly ritual, each of us chose the group he would camp out with, thereby determining the division of forces among the children of the valley. The outing lasted only two days each spring and autumn, but the influence of the groups thus formed by the children remained valid throughout the year. Nothing was so humiliating as to be expelled from the group one had joined.

As I bent down over the spring to drink from it directly, I had a sudden sense of certainty: certainty that everything--the small round pebbles, grayish blue and vermilion and white, lying at the bottom of water whose brightness seemed still to harbor the midday light; the fine sand that swirled upward, clouding it ever so slightly; and the faint shiver that ran over the surface of the water--was just as I'd seen it twenty years before; a certainty, born of longing yet to myself, at least, utterly convincing, that the water now welling up so ceaselessly was exactly the same water that had welled up and flowed away in those days. And the same certainty developed directly into a feeling that the "I" bending down there now was not the child who had once bent his bare knees there, that there was no continuity, no consistency between the two "I's," that the "I" now bending down there was a remote stranger. The present "I" had lost all true identity. Nothing, either within me or without, offered any hope of recovery.

I could hear the transparent ripples on the pool tinkling, accusing me of being no better than a rat. I shut my eyes and sucked up the cold water. My gums shrank, leaving a taste of blood on my tongue. As I stood up, my wife bent down in obedient imitation, as though I was an authority on how to drink from the spring. In fact, I was as complete a stranger to the spring by now as she, who had just come through the forest for the first time. I shuddered. The bitter cold penetrated my consciousness again. Shivering, my wife stood up too and tried to smile to show that the water had tasted good; but her teeth as her purple lips shrank back merely seemed to be bared in anger. Shoulder to shoulder, silent and shuddering with cold, we returned to the jeep. Takashi averted his eyes as though he'd seen something too pitiful to look on.

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Oe, Kenzaburo
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