Oe introduces Kogito Choko, a writer in his early sixties, as he rekindles a childhood friendship with his estranged brother-in-law, the renowned filmmaker Goro Hanawa. Goro sends Kogito a trunk of tapes he has recorded of reflections about their friendship, but as Kogito is listening one night, he hears something odd. "I'm going to head over to the Other Side now," Goro says, and then Kogito hears a loud thud. After a moment of silence, Goro's voice continues: "But don't worry, I'm not going to stop communicating with you." Moments later, Kogito's wife rushes in; Goro has jumped to his death. With that, Kogito begins a far-ranging search to understand what drove his brother-in-law to suicide. His quest takes him from the forests of southern Japan to the washed-out streets of Berlin, where Kogito confronts the ghosts from his own past and that of his lifelong, but departed, friend.
In 1997, Juzo Itami, one of Japan's most successful film directors, jumped to his death in Tokyo. Nobel laureate Oe (Hiroshima Notes) was Itami's brother-in-law, and he transposes Itami's suicide, under a fictional disguise, into a dazzling and elaborate maze of memories and meditations centering on the suicide of film director Goro Hanawa. Goro has made a series of tapes for Kogito, his world-famous writer brother-in-law, as groundwork for a possible film, which Kogito listens to obsessively after Goro's suicide. To rid himself of Goro's ghost, Kogito travels to Berlin, but even there he runs into pieces of Goro's past. Eventually, the reader is led back to the two men's youthful involvement with a right-wing paramilitary group founded by Kogito's late father. What begins as a weekend spent at the group's camp turns into something sinister from which Goro emerges fundamentally changed. Oe's deft mix of high intellectual reflection and absurd slapstick scenarios is polished to a high gloss, giving this book a tone that may remind American readers of Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift.
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Not my taste
Readable book but not exciting enough. The book is filled with echoes of the past and only first and last chapters are intriguing.