A Personal Matter - Kenzaburō Ōe, John Nathan
You and I exist in alternate different forms in countless other universes...
At each of those moments you survived in one universe and left your own corpse behind in another.

- Kenzaburo Oe: A Personal Matter

Bird, the protagonist, is confronted by a grave problem, a problem that threatens his future freedom in life - a deformed baby. He is devastated by a sense of shame since he has just fathered a monster baby and feels trapped with unforeseen, unwanted responsibilities. In the face of his grotesque tragedy, envisioning his future destroyed, his continuity broken, and freedom denied, Bird goes through a pattern of decline that reveals all the vileness and ugliness of a man. He plummets into a series of debauched actions, self-loathing and self-destruction. He sees a monster reflected in himself as repulsive as his neo-creation. 

Through the course of the narrative, Oe moves his personal matter subtly with political, social and existential thoughts concerning man's being, his fear, dread, suffering, alienation, anguish and death. There is the suggestion that the deformity is possibly caused by radioactive contamination. 

In this age of ours it's hard to say with certainty that having lived was better than not having been born in the first place. 

Bird himself finds his own nature distorted and poisonous, blaming himself personally for bringing a severely deformed child into a world where there would be no acceptance of him nor an acceptable place for him.

Under what category of the Dead could you subpoena, prosecute, and sentence a baby with only vegetable functions who died no sooner than he was born? 

Oe explores moral and philosophical themes as Bird has to make a choice to take responsibility or run away, to face or look away from the atrocity; to make the decision that would result in his 'vegetable' baby dying with dignity, or being killed in shame - a decision that eats away insidiously at his sanity.

A Personal Matter's themes of deception and escape, authentic life and self-identity, raises the novel to a more universal concept. Oe explores how the individual in confronting life's tragedies, in choosing his ideals and finding his "meaning," overcomes humiliation and shame, gains self-definition, finds his destiny: to eventually "get on with life;" and in so doing, finds personal dignity and a sense of responsibility to his fellow man.

And to Bird, from another parent of a disabled child: I hear you, I feel you. The only direction you need to take would come from the one who truly, personally matters -

I chose you, dear father, to hold my hand, 
Let's walk the same road.
Be brave...follow me, 
I'll show you who you can be. 


Oe's childhood years occurred during wartime, an important fact that shaped his writing.

His first son, Hiraki, was born in 1963 with brain hernia; his fate rested solely on Oe's decisions. It forced him to reflect on the meaning in his stories which up to that point, in his mind, amounted to "nothing." The central theme of his writing since then has been the way his family has managed to live with, and care for a handicapped child.

While in Hiroshima reporting on an anti-nuclear rally, an event that occurred soon after Hiraki's birth, Oe met survivors of Hiroshima's bombing, and had conversations with Dr. Shigeto, himself a survivor, who had devoted his career to caring for victims of the A-bomb atrocity. Oe found inspiration in confronting his own heartbreaking tragedy through the dignity and courage of the survivors, and from Dr. Shigeto's dedication to "a hopeless cause." The Hiroshima visit was the transforming experience that forever changed his view of what it means to be human.
It ultimately led to, in his own words, a rebirth of his writing style. This renewed outlook swayed him to 'rescue' his son.

Living with a disabled family member, we come to know despair, but "by actually giving it expression we can be healed and know the joy of recovering." - Kenzaburo Oe

Hiraki Oe has composed and recorded 2 distinctive works to date:

Oh, yeah- highly recommend.