Mini-review: The Changeling, by Kenzaburo Oe

I love reading books. That’s why this site features entries from my video book club, essay-based book club, as well as reviews of individual books. Sometimes, though, I can’t get around to a full fledged review, or the book requires only a few paragraphs of commentary. In those cases, I used to publish mini-reviews on Amazon. But since I’ve started boycotting the company (because of their awful labor practices, destructive near-monopoly, and willful avoidance of taxes), I decided to move this practice to my blog. So here we go with the latest entry.

Kenzaburo Oe is a Nobel winning writer whose novels often touch on political and philosophical issues, and whose writing style is influenced by French and American literature, as well as by literary criticism. Generally, I’d consider those influences (especially the latter) unwelcome in a Japanese writer, but Oe pulls off a fascinating existential novel in The Changeling.

It’s the story of a life-long friendship between an aging writer, Kogito (loosely based on Oe himself) and his brother in law, Goro, a successful movie director. (Kogito is obviously not a Japanese name, it’s a reference to Descartes’ famous cogito ergo sum). Goro has made a habit of sending tapes containing his reflections on their relationship to Kogito. In one of these tapes Goro says: “I’m going to head over to the Other Side now. But don’t worry, I’m not going to stop communicating with you.” Kogito hears a loud thud and later finds out that Goro has jumped to his death from his apartment.

This is the beginning of The Changeling, which then develops as a quest by Kogito to figure out why his friend committed suicide. A quest that brings Kogito to Berlin and in the woods of southern Japan, reflecting on early dramatic episodes of his life with Goro, as well as on developments stemming from those episodes and that unfolded over decades of their existence. Absolutely recommended.

Published by

Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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