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A Personal Matter Paperback – January 13, 1994

4.2 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


...an astonishing novel... -- Mother Jones

About the Author

His prolific body of work has won almost every major international honor, including the 1989 Prix Europalia and the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Nathan is the Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California. He is also an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 165 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reissue edition (January 13, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802150616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802150615
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Nobel prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe's best known book is a remarkable and intimate journey through the maze of ethics, fatherhood, and responsibility. The protagonist Bird is a dreamer; he dreams of going to Africa, of undemanding love, of a perfect son - none of which are within his grasp. His child is born with a herniated brain, and his wife's obstetrician is already talking excitedly about an autopsy as the baby, a boy, continues to live. This stubborn will to live, and Bird's responsibility to decide his son's fate, drives Bird deep into denial. If he doesn't do anything, then the baby might die naturally, and Bird will be free of the deformity that threatens to reflect ill on him as a man and husband. But his wife wants their child to survive; she wants to name him, to love him. And Bird begins to question his first inclinations. His touching relationship with his mistress Himiko only reinforces his sense of inadequacy and cowardice - until, that is, he begins to accept life as it is.
This stark, haunting novel leaves the reader with a deep sense of both loss and hope, although the latter is more, in Bird's mind, "forbearance." Oe's honest treatment of this difficult subject matter is sensitive and skilled, understated in a way that emphasizes the magnitude of what Bird faces. John Nathan's translation provides smooth, beautifully-rendered prose.
The subject matter may be too depressing for some readers but should appeal to those interested in quality literature. The issues Oe tackles are significant, and his characters, deeply human. A PERSONAL MATTER is an unforgettable novel not to be missed.
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Format: Paperback
In this, his most famous book (says the blurb on the cover) Oe examines the devastation, fear and shame of fathering a brain-damaged child. This interpretation is oddly off-mark. "A Personal Matter" does not really examine these issues; it examines how a man avoids facing his own, quite different feelings. A sense of shame does pervade the novel, but it is an emotion that is felt most strongly by characters who think in a more conventionally Japanese way.
Bird, the main character of the novel, is a 27-year old man in a failing marriage. He teaches at a cram school and dreams of escaping to Africa. He is drifting through a life that has no meaning or direction (not that he bothers). The birth of his brain-damaged son forces him to face the question "what is the right thing to do for me?". He dodges the question as long as he can, plunging headlong into a drinking binge, a sexual affair, and eventually a scheme to have his son killed by a quack doctor. But the question does not go away. It is his very own personal matter. No one can help him. The question corners him (not surprisingly, several scenes of the novel prominently feature blind alleys), and finally he finds HIS answer. Or rather, the answer finds him - he did not consciously look for it.
More than anything that is impressive about this novel - the evocation of a stifling atmosphere, the restrained, matter-of-fact tone of the narrator, the stark realism, the depiction of the sense of shame and horror that the birth of a handicapped child evokes in the Japanese - more than all these things I admired how Oe managed to convey a sense of the unconscious humanity of the man Bird (who, after all, does not live up to any moral standards when he begins an affair while, at the same time, his wife is about to give birth in hospital).
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By A Customer on November 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is about human responsibility. Bird, the teacher of a cram-school, has always, in his own words, been running away--from himself, from his marriage, from society, and from the duties he owes to his newly-born deformed child. The place which embodies his escapist tendency, where he self-deceivingly believes happiness resides, is Africa. He collects maps of Africa and buys books written by African writers. The author depicts a spiritually and morally empty modern Japan whose citizens, like Bird and Kimiko, live purposeless lives. Their quiet reckless acts of abandon hidden and bound behind a quiet orderly society reveal an intense desperation that is so insidiously harmful on the psyche because it cannot take form in overt revolt. This desperation can take either the aimless route of escapism or the dead-end road of suicide, to which the author has admitted his life had been heading. Kimiko's husband committed suicide for no apparent reason, thenceforth causing the wife to go on a crash course of sexual abandon. Bird's irresponsible sexual escapades with Kimiko are despicable, in light that his child and wife are committed to hospitals, but one is sympathetic to his degraded condition. One's knows that the birth of this monstrous child is the ultimate test, from which he will be surface like a hero from the darkness if he is able to confront his despicable character, take moral responsibility for his actions, and assume responsibility for others besides himself. His psychological journey is the mythic journey that all humans must take at least once in their lifetime. The book's unadorned language that sometimes borders on realistic crudeness is a marked contrast to Kawabata's poetic simplicity and Mishima's detailed psychological analysis.Read more ›
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