Summary and book reviews of The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe

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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Book Summary

In The Changeling, Nobel Prize–winning author Kenzaburo Oe takes readers from the forests of southern Japan to the washed-out streets of Berlin as he investigates the impact our real and imagined pasts have on our lives.

Writer Kogito Choko is in his sixties when he rekindles a childhood friendship with his estranged brother-in-law, the renowned filmmaker Goro Hanawa. As part of their correspondence, 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 from the roof of a building.

With that, Kogito begins a far-ranging search to understand what drove his brother-in-law to suicide. The quest takes him to Berlin, where he confronts ghosts from both his own past, and that of his lifelong, but departed, friend.

The Changeling
1

Kogito was lying on the narrow army cot in his study, his ears enveloped in giant headphones, listening intently. The voice on the tape had just said, “So anyway, that’s it for today—I’m going to head over to the Other Side now,” when Kogito heard a loud thud. There was silence for a moment, then Goro’s voice continued: “But don’t worry, 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!”

The recording ended on this rather vague and unsatisfactory note, and Kogito felt a sudden, excruciating sadness that seemed to rip him apart from his ears to the very depths of his eyes. After lying in that shattered state for a while, he put Tagame back on the nearest bookshelf and tried to go to sleep. Thanks in part to the soporific cold medicine he’d taken earlier,...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Changeling is probably a good book, but it is not for everyone, and it was not for me. The book is pulled along with a compelling plot that frequently startled me with its eerie twists and sharp revelations... I had to force myself through dense blocks of text... meant, in the words of one reviewer, to demonstrate "a conviction that literature has the power to transfigure and redeem reality." But they were often quite chronologically confusing, and they lacked the psychological realism that I have come to expect in contemporary literature... Ultimately, I suspect that The Changeling is rather more fun to write about than to read, though I defer to readers more familiar with Oe's body of work and schooled in his formal style of writing for the final analysis.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A dazzling and elaborate maze of memories and meditations .... Oe's deft mix of high intellectual reflection and absurd slapstick scenarios is polished to a high gloss.

Booklist

Starred Review. As in previous novels and with comparable mastery, Oe deeply ponders love, sex, art, friendship, family, and death in a rich, psychologically acute rhapsody of narration anchored in personal calamities.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Once again introspection and autobiography are transmuted into compelling fiction in the latest from Japan's 1994 Nobel laureate.

Holly Silva

In a May 2008 article in The New York Times, Kenzaburo Oe dismissed his current manuscript as possibly his last because, "When I turn 75 years old, I expect I'll have nothing left to write as a novelist." Instead, Oe, who turned 75 this year, gives us The Changeling, the substantial beginning of a planned trilogy concerning Kogito Choko, an aging novelist modeled on Oe. ... But the restraint and ease are deceptive. Painful human truths break through - or are created from - an accumulation of everyday musing. The Changeling is a top-tier existentialist work.

The Los Angeles Times

[A] richly imagined, complex story full of the oddity, irony and existential angst that have long been at the heart of Oe's writing, only here they are seen more often on the level of plot and structure than on that of sentence and image.

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About the Author
Kenzaburo Oe was born in 1935 in the remote mountain village of Ose on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Oe is considered one of the most dynamic and revolutionary writers to have emerged in Japan since World War II, and is acknowledged as the first truly modern Japanese writer. He is known for his powerful accounts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and his struggle to come to terms with a mentally handicapped son. His dark musings on moral failure came to symbolize an alienated generation in postwar Japan. Oe's influences and literary heroes are less Japanese than American and European, ranging from Henry Miller to Jean-Paul Sartre, from Blake to Camus.

His prolific body of work has won ...

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