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 , 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 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, 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, is an exquisite examination of resurfacing national and personal trauma, and the ways that storytelling can mend political, social, and familial rifts.
Writing a novel after having won a Nobel Prize for Literature must be even more daunting than trying to follow a brilliant, bestselling debut. In Somersault (the title refers to an abrupt, public renunciation of the past), Kenzaburo Oe has himself leapt in a new direction, rolling away from the slim, semi-autobiographical novel that garnered the 1994 Nobel Prize (A Personal Matter) and toward this lengthy, involved account of a Japanese religious movement. Although it opens with the perky and almost picaresque accidental deflowering of a young ballerina with an architectural model, Somersault is no laugh riot. Oe's slow, deliberate pace sets the tone for an unusual exploration of faith, spiritual searching, group dynamics, and exploitation. His lavish, sometimes indiscriminate use of detail can be maddening, but it also lends itself to his sobering subject matter, as well as to some of the most beautiful, realistic sex scenes a reader is likely to encounter. – Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Nobelist Oe's giant new novel is inspired by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which released sarin gas in Tokyo 's subway system in 1995. Ten years before the novel begins, Patron and Guide, the elderly leaders of Oe's fictional cult, discover, to their horror, that a militant faction of the organization is planning to seize a nuclear power plant. They dissolve the cult very publicly, on TV, in an act known as the Somersault. Ten years later, Patron decides to restart the fragmented movement, after the militant wing kidnaps and murders Guide, moving the headquarters of the church from Tokyo to the country town of Shikoku. Patron's idea is that he is really a fool Christ; in the end, however, he can't escape his followers' more violent expectations. Oe divides the story between Patron and his inner circle, which consists of his public relations man, Ogi, who is not a believer; his secretary, Dancer, an assertive, desirable young woman; his chauffeur, Ikuo; and Ikuo's lover, Kizu, who replaces Guide as co-leader of the cult. Kizu is a middle-aged artist, troubled by the reoccurrence of colon cancer. Like a Thomas Mann character, he discovers homoerotic passion in the throes of illness. Oe's Dostoyevskian themes should fill his story with thunder, but the pace is slow, and Patron doesn't have the depth of a Myshkin or a Karamazov-he seems anything but charismatic. It is Kizu and Ikuo's story that rises above room temperature, Kizu's sharp, painterly intelligence contrasting with Ikuo's rather sinister ardor. Oe has attempted to create a sprawling masterpiece, but American readers might decide there's more sprawl than masterpiece here.