13 June, 2021

Unknown Citizen

A scrutiny of ordinary lives

Unknown Citizen
WHEN a writer barracks conservative literary values, he is uncritically revered or mindlessly condemned. As various histories of literary criticism have shown so often, there is seldom a middle path that analyses the undercurrents in his style before justifying why he did what he did.

An example is Kenzaburo Oe, a Japanese prodigy whose novella The Catch created a furore way back in 1958. A student of French Literature in Tokyo University, Oe's story of a 10-year-old Japanese boy who is betrayed by an Afro-American pilot won the prestigious Atukagawa Prize in Japan.

It was in 1994 that Oe won the Nobel Prize. And, with the passage of time, his protagonists have been different from the young Japanese boy in their mannerisms as well as attitudes towards life in general. In A Personal Matter, the writer's hero is Bird, a despondent intellectual ensnared by problems. His marriage is in trouble; he indulges in sexual escapades and liquor; he is depressed at the birth of his child; he dreams of escaping to Africa.

In some ways, Bird recalls the...

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