Twenty-something Bird is busy making plans to escape to Africa when his wife is struggling in the hospital, giving birth to a child afflicted with brain hernia. A doctor nervously giggles at the “two-headed monster.” It made the much-admired American author Jonathan Franzen laugh, too, as he chose A Personal Matter for the WSJ book club.
“'How do I get out of this?' is the paramount question throughout,” he says. “It’s an inherently comic situation when people are in flight from reality.” And Bird most definitely fits the bill as he feverishly tries to get out of his – first by contemplating killing Hirake, his newborn, by starving him, and later by turning to alcohol and sex with his old lover.
He avoids his job, his wife, his child, and the decisions he needs to make except for one – to get rid of Hirake. He makes a plan; he delivers the baby to “a back alley abortionist” who will kill him. He has savings which he could use for a surgery to fix the hernia but he is convinced that running to his dream place Africa with his girlfriend is a better choice.
“At just 165 pages, Oe’s novel is a compressed, unflinching portrait of the turmoil that envelops Bird after his son’s birth. It is relentless, explicit and often grotesque, featuring moments of absurdity against a backdrop of chaos and moral confusion,” said The Wall Street Journal. And though the novel doesn’t directly revolve around Hiroshima, it remains affected by it – its shadow lurking over the book. It also exposes the uncomfortable truths of the Japanese society, its strict decorum, where it was considered shameful to take a handicapped child out in public.
Kenzaburo Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994.
Published in 1964, translated from the Japanese by John Nathan, published in 1968.