In an interview published in the Winter 2007 issue of The Paris Review, Nobel Prize-winning writer Kenazburo Oe mentions how Haruki Murakami has “created a place for himself in the international literary scene in a way that Yukio Mishima and myself were not able to.” It’s not a competition, Oe adds, but he “would like to see more of my works translated into English, French, and German and secure a readership in those countries.”
And indeed, I’ve probably read more than half of Murakami’s books which are all readily available in the local bookshops here in our place, but I never came across any by Oe. There are even more books by Mishima than by Oe sold here in our country as I recall my official visit to some bookshops in Manila months back. Meanwhile, ordering at Amazon.com is outside my means (which leads me to relegate the site as a mere repository of my bookwishlist).
I am thus glad to find one of Oe’s stories in Alberto Manguel’s Fathers and Sons. The anthology (not to be confused with Turgenev’s classic of the same title) contains twenty short stories connected by the theme of the father and son relationship. Included are works by authors of the classics like Kafka, Faulkner and Ambrose Bierce and more contemporary writers such as Ben Okri and Anita Desai (along with Bruno Schulz, Hector Murena, and Jose Garcia Villa – a Filipino – all of whom I’ve never heard of before and pointing out the glaring inadequacy of my readings).
Oe’s “Aghwee the Sky Monster,” the third in the selection, begins as a man with a pirate patch in one of his eyes relates how that eye got blind. As a college student ten years earlier, the student met a banker who offered him the job of accompanying the banker’s son.
Now we have the father and the son, I thought. I wondered how the banker drove his son, a famous young composer insane. Was the banker too strict as a father? Did he spoil the young composer too much? Did he neglect him as a child? I speculated on what depravity linked the two that made the young composer believe that a spirit in the shape of “a fat baby in a white cotton nightgown, big as a kangaroo” visited him.
As it turns out, my initial deductions were all off the mark. The young composer himself was a father. “Aghwee the Sky Monster,” the crazy father believed, was the soul of his dead baby. Born with brain hernia, the baby was starved to death by the father who did not want a vegetable-son. The only word the baby uttered was “aghwee.”
Oe himself had a son who was born retarded but unlike the young composer, Oe did not allow his son to die. I can only imagine the magnitude of Oe’s sorrow. Much of Oe’s works, including A Personal Matter, Father, Where are you Going?, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, and The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away are concerned with the same theme. ■