Kobo Abe was born in Tokyo in 1924 and grew up in Mukden, Manchuria, during World War II. In 1948 he received a medical degree from Tokyo Imperial University, but he never practiced medicine. Considered one of Japan's foremost novelists, his most famous works include The Face of Another (1964), The Box Man (1973), Secret Rendezvous (1977), and The Ark Sakura (1984). All of Abe's books have been bestsellers in Japan and he was the recipient of numerous literary awards and prizes, including the Yomiuri Prize for The Woman in the Dunes in 1962. He collaborated with director Hiroshi Teshigahara on film adaptations of four of his novels--including The Woman in the Dunes--and was also widely known as a dramatist. He died in 1993.
In his last novel, Abe, who died in 1993, repeatedly swings with ease from outlandish shenanigans to grisly surrealism. The unnamed narrator is a low-level employee at an office-supply firm who, in jest, proposes a new product called a Kangaroo Notebook. His assignment to produce a rough sketch of the notebook is interrupted, however, when he discovers, while eating breakfast, that radish sprouts are growing where his leg hair used to be. At a dermatology clinic, he meets a disturbingly seductive nurse, after which he is then strapped to a bed in an operating room and tranquilized. From this point, the narrator's experiences grow increasingly hallucinatory as he is released into the world with nothing more than a blanket and a hospital bed, which turns out to be a remarkable machine with its own agenda. Buffeted about, seemingly deprived of free will, the narrator lands in a corner of hell, where he takes a sulfur-spring cure and meets child-demons who perform for tourists and the villainous specter of his own mother. More than once, he is rescued by the nurse from the clinic, who, it turns out, collects blood for her own mysterious purposes and has a strange American boyfriend named Master Hammer Killer, who conducts research into sudden deaths. As events propel the narrator toward the Japanese Euthanasia Club, Abe (The Woman in the Dunes; The Ark Sakura) deftly blends antic comedy with metaphysical dread while maintaining the internal logic of a narrative which, in its lighthearted obsession with death, feels less like a whistling past the graveyard than a winking message from beyond. (Apr.)
This is the last novel Abe wrote before his death in 1993. One of Japan's leading authors, best known for Women in the Dunes (1965), Abe leads us through a surreal adventure with a man who has suddenly grown radish sprouts on his shins and seeks help in a hospital. He is then pursued in and by his hospital bed, which has a mind of its own. Unfortunately, the adventure becomes distanced and uninvolving, partly because of the lack of coherence in the odd occurrences and partly because of an inept translation. Characters sometimes speak in a stilted fashion (for example, saying "unfilial" and "prosody") but also yell "shit." Recommended for comprehensive modern Japanese literature collections.-Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Coll., Garden City, N.Y.