Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Death by Water' Takes Readers on a Wild Ride of Epic Proportions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Death by Water' Takes Readers on a Wild Ride of Epic Proportions

Article excerpt

In addition to being noted for his prodigious literary accomplishments, 1994 Nobel Prize-winning Kenzaburo [197 140 ]e is known for being politically outspoken. He made international headlines again during this year's 70th anniversary of the Nagasaki/ Hiroshima bombings. His esteemed name and reputation alone ought to inspire readers to seek out his latest-title-in-translation, Death by Water, which lands in the US six years after its initial Japanese publication.

And so they should. My advice to you: Buy, borrow, or steal this book - and then set aside some substantial reading time. This could be the densest and most rewarding 432 pages you'll experience this year.

For first-time [197 140 ]e-readers, "Death by Water" is an intriguing mystery-of-sorts that easily stands alone. An octogenarian writer, Kogito Choko, is finally given access to the contents of a red leather trunk, which he believes will reveal the circumstances under which his father drowned in a small boat during a summer storm just before the end of World War II. As requested, his younger sister Asa held on to the trunk until the 10th anniversary of their mother's death. Choko is certain the trunk holds answers that will allow him to finish his "drowning novel ... a definitive novel about [his] father" that he began almost half a century ago. He returns to his childhood home in Shikoku from Tokyo, expecting - at the very least - some sense of closure.

With Asa's introduction and encouragement, Choko agrees to share the process of discovery and completion with a theater troupe whose founding director has been successfully staging Choko's body of work. The hoped-for collaboration ends abruptly when Choko learns that the trunk's contents are less than illuminating and he abandons his novel to return to Tokyo. Extenuating family circumstances send him back to Shikoku, this time with his eldest son. By previous agreement, two women from the theater group have moved into the family home, and the drama - enlightening, convoluted, surreal - continues.

For [197 140 ]e aficionados, get ready for a wild ride of epic proportions: dig deep into your thinking caps, line up your other [197 140 ]e titles, pull up your search engines, because you've got gratifying work to do. This is [197 140 ]e's fifth novel in which Kogito Choko takes center stage; for decades, Choko has been [197 140 ]e's literary alter ego with countless autobiographical overlaps. Shikoku origins, publishing history, prematurely lost father, brain-damaged son with musical genius - all that and more is shared by writer and protagonist here. Ghosts loom, not just on the page, but from [197 140 ]e's real life - the late brother-in-law in this fiction was, in reality, Juzo Itami, director of the cult classic "Tampopo," who also leaped to his suicide. …

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