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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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 480 pages
    Feb 2011, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Print Excerpt

The Changeling

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, he fell into a shallow doze, but then a slight noise wakened him and he saw his wife’s face glimmering palely under the fluorescent lights of the study’s slanted ceiling.

“Goro committed suicide,” she said softly. “I wanted to go out without waking you, but I was worried that Akari would be frightened by the rush of phone calls from the media.” That was how Chikashi broke the news about what had happened to her only brother, Goro, who had been Kogito’s close friend since high school. For a few moments Kogito just lay there in disbelieving shock—waiting, irrationally, for Tagame to start slowly vibrating, like a mobile phone receiving an incoming call.

“The police have asked Umeko to identify the body, and I’m going to keep her company,” Chikashi added, her voice full of barely controlled emotion. “I’ll go along with you till you meet up with Goro’s family, and then I’ll come back here alone and deal with the telephone,” Kogito said, feeling as if he were paralyzed from head to foot. The avalanche of media calls probably wouldn’t begin for a few hours, at least.

Chikashi continued to stand silently beneath the fluorescent lights. She watched attentively as Kogito got out of bed and slowly put on the wool shirt and corduroy trousers that were draped over a chair. (It was the dead of winter.) After Kogito had finished pulling a heavy sweater over his head he said, “Well, then,” and without thinking he reached out and grabbed Tagame off the bookshelf.

“Wait a minute,” said Chikashi, the voice of reason. “What’s the point of taking that thing? It’s the cassette recorder you use to listen to the tapes Goro sent you, right? That’s exactly the sort of absurd behavior that always infuriates you when somebody else does it.”


Even in his late fifties, Kogito still took the streetcar to the pool, and he had noticed that he was usually the only person on board with an old-fashioned cassette recorder. Once in a while he would see a middle-aged male listening to a tape and moving his lips, from which Kogito deduced that the man must be practicing English conversation. Until recently, the streetcars had been teeming with crowds of youths listening to music on their Walkmans, but now those same kids were all busy chatting on mobile phones or nimbly typing text messages on the tiny keyboards. Kogito actually felt nostalgic for the days when the tinny cacophony of popular music used to leak out of the young people’s ubiquitous headphones, even though it had seemed annoying at the time. Nowadays, Kogito concealed his bulky pre-Walkman recorder in the gym bag with his swimming equipment and wore the oversized headphones clamped around his graying head. At times like that, he couldn’t help seeing himself as a lonely, isolated symbol of the generation gap, eating modernity’s dust.

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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