Book info

Somersault (2003)

Somersault (2003)
Rating
3.25 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0802140459 (ISBN13: 9780802140456)
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English
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publisher
grove press
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Somersault (2003)
Somersault (2003)

About book: I’m having a very hard time with this review and it should not be reviewed dryly. Who Oe is doesn’t matter, or where he’s from or where this lies beside his previous works, or who the autistic musician or self terrified surgeon with the suicidal mother is. This is not a book to review from historical context.You can. Religion, Japan by train, effigies, beer and whiskey beside saki, the desperate shame of a man dying of cancer tearfully pulling himself up to the first and only penis he’ll ever have inside him. Who is Patron, who is Guide, why the primary characters have so little to do with the God they’re parading around, what was the goal, was Jonah Yonah – these aren’t answered. And they stagger on a wrought stage of soliloquies, snowy boughs, a man’s stomach in the sun and improbabilities and farces.The book is impossible. There is one dash, one interpretation in a book with page long monologues outnumbering one-liners. Then what’s going on here? I’ve told you before this is not the question. It is troubling, the sonorous seamlessness, the inexcusable boredom of reading this book. It is unforgivable.But I read this and, yes, it is the snowy boughs, the half parted mouth, the hungry man pulling apart his ass as colon cancer pulls at his stool. That’s what it is. Yes, I’ve said, there’s more, if you need it. But don’t look for it. It will do you no good to compare wounds of absence and excess, repetitive Giis, or feudal Yakuzas in the guise of repentance. It is there. But it’s not what you get or what stays.What sticks is the atmosphere, the ineffable. I know that sounds above. I’m sounding like Kizu maybe, or anyone really, lost in this book that’s so clear and so empty, so vast. There are pockets and small findings, dips in the savannah.You’re right. I’m not clear. Let me be, then. It’s a difficult book to read because it’s boring and frustrating when no one responds in conversation as people do. Explanations and backstory are stumbled on like logs in tall grass and the story resembles so little a story. It sprawls slowly, thinly, with people who are real until they talk and places that are stronger than the people. Is this what he means when he discusses the ‘power of the place?’ I don’t know. I don’t think I need to know. Everything I need to know from this book, from Aum Shinrikyo to pianos and triptychs, is in the atmosphere, and the images that live beyond any of the rambles or the philosophy.This book is a glacier – slow, clear, awesome, tedious and beautiful.

Oe's magisterial novel tells the story of the rebirth of an extremist millennial church whose leaders had apparently abandoned the movement ten years earlier in a successful attempt to thwart terrorist activity by some of the church's most radical members. Widely criticized when the English translation came out in 2003 for its flat characterization and stilted style, patient readers will nonetheless find this a richly suggestive fantasy on post-war Japanese history filled with compelling situations and beautiful images. The reflective, often blandly sincere speeches and conversations that comprise much of the book do get tedious. But our cast is largely one of lost souls; restlessness is one of the book's themes; and the drama does build steadily to a powerful--though weird--climax. Oe’s execution is mostly a match for his vast ambition, and I’ll certainly be reading more of him—even if part of me thinks I should give this 3 ½ stars instead.
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Reviews
Andrew
One of the more frustrating books I've ever read. This is hardly a story of a cult, hardly a story of "the human spirit" nor of repentance. There's bits of those things in there, but nothing stuck out in this book of interest to me. Dialogue, which is almost the entire book, is non-realist, banal and constantly focused on describing past events, relationships, etc. with a detatched air. The characters are emotionally flattened, the "cult activities" described are (and I don't mean this figuratively) like being at a board meeting, and what little glint of transcendence comes through is often cliche and shallow. Oe isn't a bad writer, and the story could've been engaging, if only it was given a little life. Some positive reviews I've come across suggest that the book is lifeless to evoke a meditative, somber tone. Possibly, but "boring" works well enough for me.
Sean de la Rosa
This was a very different read. Oe tackles the issues of current day religion, philosophy and ethics with beauty and grace. His characters are unique and interesting to unravel. Although the piece is large and dense, it is a rewarding read. Somersault is my first encounter with a Japanese author. Oe won the nobel prize for literature in 1994.A quote near the end I re-read a few times: "Is it really so bad that you can't hear God's voice? You don't need God's voice, do you? People should be free."
Brian
I liked this book, but it was super long. I think that the treatment of the subject of religion vs. spirituality was interesting, and the author did seem to paint a very vivid picture of the direction that religions can take (and how dangerous religious sects can be when so much of what is done in them is symbolic for different groups of people in different ways). The book did a good job of slowly involving the reader more and more into the back story of each character and filling out many of the characters that appeared through out the book in some more than simply flat presentation. Ultimately this book was a struggle for me, because much of the writing was a bit dry (never really lingering on events too long, but laboring in it's point a bit longer than I think it needed to). This book was a challenge for me to get through and did not grip my attention for long periods of time (until the last 100 pages or so which were interesting but would have been welcomed about 150 pages earlier). I would read another book by Oe, but not for a while. I can tell that he has a way with words that piqued my interest from time to time, but I can't say that would recommend this book to anyone for any particular reason or another.
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