A World Tour of Books: Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe (Japan)

​This post will contain spoilers.


I have to admit that until recently I knew very little about Japanese literature (unless you count manga into that category). Haruki Murakami was the only Japanese author I could name and only because he has such an international success.  

I started looking into different writers from the land of the rising sun and one stuck out in particular: 1994 Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe. 

Oe is a writer who often writes about social issues and his style of writing (which he himself refers to as “grotesque realism”) points at the injustices in society. Many of his characters are marginalised people who challenge the statues quo and who, as the outsiders they are, can see through its lies and hypocrisies.

The Oe novel I have chosen to read for this post is his first published fiction work Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids. It tells the story of a group of reformatory boys who are evacuated to a remote mountain village during World War II. There they are despised by the villagers and treated very poorly. When a plague breaks out they are forced to bury the animals that have died from the illness. Because the villagers couldn’t care less if these reformatory children catch the disease and die.

The next day the boys realise that they have been abandoned. Apart from them is just the corpse of a woman who has already died from the plague and her surviving daughter who refuses to leave her side. 

The boys try to make the best of their situation. Without the oppression from the villagers who hate them they enjoy a relative and short-lived freedom. They meet a Korean boy name Li, who teaches them the hunt small birds and together they organise a festival. The narrator and main protagonist even experiences his first love with the girl left behind by the villagers.

But she is soon infected with the plague and dies. Shortly thereafter the villagers return. 

After having disemboweled and killed a runaway soldier who was hiding in the village, they threaten the children and tell them to lie about the fact that they were abandoned for days. All the boys agree, except for the narrator. At the end of the novel he is chased into the forest by the villagers. What happens next is never revealed.

It is believed that the village in the novel is inspired by Oe’s own home village on the island of Shikoku. There he witnessed how war tore apart the people and the cruelties it led them to. His experiences during World World II led him to become a pacifist and peace activist, which he is to this day. 

Nip the Bud, Shoot the Kids is not for the faint of heart but it is an important and powerful story. A great place to start if you want to become more acquainted with Oe’s work and with Japanese literature in general.

A World Tour of Books: Zeina by Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt) 

We are now at the third stop on our world tour of books and at the first stop on the African continent: Egypt.

For this country I have picked a book by a brave and fascinating woman by the name of Nawal El Saadawi. She is a well-known social activist in the Arabic world and has been fighting for decades against social injustices such as the oppression of women. Her writing has caused her to be imprisoned and later having to flee her country. Still, she persists to fight for what she believes in. 

El Saadawi’s novel Zeina is about an esteemed literary critique named Bodour. She lives a comfortable upper-class life with her husband and daughter and it seems she should be enjoying herself. But Bodour is plagued by shameful secret: when young she abandoned her newborn baby, a child born out of a forbidden love. 

That child grows up to be Zeina, one of Egypt’s most beloved entertainers. Despite growing up as a poor child on the streets she becomes a singer and poet, fearlessly rebelling against social conventions through her art. 

Her classmate Mageeda both admires and envies the beautiful and talented Zeina. Not knowing that they are in fact sisters and have the same biological mother, Bodour, who tormented by memories is writing a fictionalised account of what happened in her youth.

But the novel goes missing. Who stole it? Will Bodour ever find it again? 

Zeina is one of the best written books I’ve read in a while. The prose is amazing and the way El Saadawi dissects both the emotional life of her characters and the hypocrisies of her culture is merciless and often shocking. 

One thing which was bit confusing at first was how often the perspective changed between characters, sometimes after just a few paragraphs. But you get used to it after a while and overall Zeina was a great read. I now understand why Nawal El Saadawi is so often named as a candidate to the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Numb

If there’s a word to describe how I’ve been feeling since Friday it’s that one. Numb. I didn’t feel much when I first heard of the terrorist attack in my country’s capital. Especially not surprise.

Terrorist attacks in Europe are so common now that when a new one happens it isn’t much of a shock even if it’s still horrifying. Sad to say but it’s starting to feel like the new normal. 

That it would happen in Sweden was more or less inevitable. We have one of Europe’s highest numbers of members and sympathisers of ISIS and the government here is known to be especially lack with punishing these fuckers. The only thing that surprised me a little bit was that the attack happened in Stockholm and not in my birth city of Gothenburg, known to be one of Europe’s biggest recruiting grounds for ISIS. 

I’ve been hearing people say that we need to keep doing everything the same to show the terrorists they aren’t winning. But realistically we can’t pretend we are just as safe as before. Earlier this year I already made the decision to not attend any Pride parades anymore. After the Pulse massacre and knowing the hatred these ISIS fucks have for LGBTQ-people, I can no longer feel safe doing that. And I’d rather avoid getting shot or ran over by a truck than make a statement about not being afraid. 

I’m probably not the only one feeling this way and maybe that’s a small victory for the terrorists in the short run. But they won’t win. Rationality, science and atheism are the way of the future. We must never stop fighting for a secular and logical society if we want the world to be a better place.

There is nothing these religious lunatics fear more than just that and maybe that’s why they hate the modern world so much. Maybe the childish minds of the very religious can’t handle living in a world where magical thinking doesn’t work and things aren’t real just because they have faith that it is.

Well, that’s their problem.  Willful stupidity and ignorance can win over science and rationality as much as a rabbit can beat an elephant to death. The religious terrorists’ childish fears cannot and will not stop progress.

Still, right now I feel numb. The nightmare inducing images (that some sick people shared on social media. Seriously, who does that?) from the attack are etched in my mind. The horror feels at once surreal and far too real to comprehend. 

But maybe it’s okay to take some time to let everything sink in. Recharge the batteries before planning what to do next. Because I sure will not just sit on my ass while religious fools are killing children on the streets of my country in an attempt to force their religion on everyone else. 

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do. I’m thinking about getting involved  in a Swedish organisation that fights for a secular society.

Right now, though, I’m going to go ahead and feel numb. Then I’ll probably feel dread and sorrow. And then, like my country, I’ll get back up and keep going.

Back at work 

I went back to work last week after my 6 weeks sick leave. It’s the same company and kind of work as before but it’s at a new location, an industrial area on the edge of town. A really boring place that looks like it was designed to reflect the mindset of someone with severe depression. 

It could put me in a shitty mood but mostly it’s just compels me to continue on working towards a better life for myself. One day I’ll get out of this drudgery. Just fucking watch me.

At least this boring fucking place inspired a poem I wrote the other day (based on real events):


Drowned in the grey 


Winter snow has turned to spring rain 

The black of the sky has faded to grey 

My soul is an animal trapped in a concrete cage

All around me are walls of stone and sand 

Metal bars holding it all upp, holding our hope out 

Beneath here is a river 

Its water as grey as the sky above and the gravel beneath 

My friend once found a body on its shore 

A woman tired of the drudge had thrown herself away

And drowned in the grey