Excerpt from The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Changeling

By Kenzaburo Oe

The Changeling
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2011,
    480 pages.

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Goro’s way of speaking on the tapes wasn’t a monologue, exactly. Rather, it was as if he and Kogito were having an extended conversation on the telephone. Because of this, Kogito soon got into the habit of listening to the tapes before he went to sleep in his study. Lying on his side with the headphones on, he would listen to the recordings while a host of thoughts floated languidly through his mind.

As new tapes continued to arrive at regular intervals, Kogito would listen to each one, and then—almost as if they were having a real-time conversation—he would punctuate Goro’s recorded remarks from time to time by pressing the PAUSE button and giving voice to his own opinions. That practice quickly turned into a routine, and before long, even though Goro couldn’t hear Kogito’s responses, communicating by way of Tagame ended up almost entirely replacing their occasional phone chats.

On the night in question, a few hours before he learned that Goro had plunged to his death from the roof of his production company’s office building in a posh section of Tokyo, Kogito was indulging in his customary bedtime ritual: lying in bed listening to the latest tape, which had been delivered by courier earlier that evening. While Goro rambled eloquently along, Kogito would stop the tape whenever the impulse struck him, and interpolate—not so much his own views, anymore, but rather his natural, spontaneous conversational responses to whatever Goro might be saying. What Kogito remembered about that evening’s session, in retrospect, is that he was suddenly struck with the idea of buying a tape recorder with editing capabilities, which would allow him to cobble together a third tape that incorporated both sides of his lively and occasionally contentious “dialogues” with Goro.

At one point there was a stretch of silence on the tape, and when Goro began talking again his voice sounded very different. It was immediately clear from his blurry diction that he’d had a few drinks during the break and had forgotten to stop the tape. “So anyway, that’s it for today—I’m going to head over to the Other Side now,” Goro said, quite casually.

After that declaration, there was a sound that Kogito eventually came to think of as the Terrible Thud. It was the sort of dramatic embellishment you would expect from a high-tech filmmaker like Goro, who was known for his skillful use of sound effects and composite recordings. Only later did Kogito realize that the thud was the noise you might hear when a heavy body fell from a high place and crashed onto the unyielding pavement below: Ka-thunk.

“But don’t worry,” Goro went on, “I’m not going to stop communicating with you. That’s why I made a special point of setting up this system with Tagame and the tapes. Well, I know it’s probably getting late on your side. Good night!” he concluded cheerfully, in a voice that bore no trace of intoxication.

Kogito actually thought, more than once, that maybe that portentous announcement (“I’m going to head over to the Other Side now”) was the last thing Goro said before he jumped, intentionally prerecorded to serve as his final words, and the remarks that followed the thud, made by a totally sober-sounding Goro, were the first dispatch from the Other Side, using the Tagame cassette recorder as a sort of interdimensional mobile phone. If that was true, then if Kogito just went on listening to the tapes using the same system, shouldn’t he be able to hear Goro’s voice from the Other Side? And so he continued his bedtime ritual of chatting with Goro almost every night, via the medium of Tagame, running through the collection of tapes in no particular order—except for the final tape, which he put away in the trunk without bothering to rewind.

Excerpted from The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe. Copyright © 2010 by Kenzaburo Oe. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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