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The Silent Cry is by Japanese writer Oe Kenzaburo, previous winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. I think that readers of Japanese fiction are probably more used to reading slightly more modern fiction, probably by Haruki Murakami, which focuses on the modern, consumerist society which thrives in Japanese cities and is the Japan that most people will imagine when they think of the country. The Silent Cry, however, is set in a remote village in the middle of winter in the 60s, and so it presents an entirely different picture of Japan than that which is most commonly assumed.
The story starts and Mitsu is living his regular everyday life in Tokyo when his best friend hangs himself with no explanation, after painting his head bright red. He and his wife Natsu have just had their first baby who due to a brain defect they have left in an institution, presumably for the rest of its life. This has hit the couple hard and Natsu has started doing nothing but drink whiskey all day. Things change dramatically when Mitsus brother Takahashi returns from America to Japan and convinces Mitsu that he should return to the village they came from to sell part of the property their that still belonged to them. And then the snow starts to fall, and with the bridge to the village broken and uncross able they become trapped in the village until the snow thaws. Mitsu and Takahashi start to look into their family history, their grandfathers brother infamously created an uprising in the village in 1860 and Takahashi decides he wants to recreate it. He gathers the young men in the village and gets them to start exerting control over the village and the people living their, starting by getting the villagers to raid the local supermarket, before planning bigger and more dangerous things. Mitsu wants to stay separate from the mindless violence his brother wants to create, but as his wife wants to join in, and he in stuck in the village, it may soon be unavoidable.
I had mixed feelings about this book whilst reading it, and wasn't too sure how much I liked it, until I finished it and decided I absolutely loved it. The book starts very differently from how it ends up, which I think kind of throws you off to start with, I expected it to be a bit different from what it was going to be, but once they get into the village and the story starts to take shape it really starts to get going.
The story centres on the uprisings of the youth of the village, both led by young men of the same family, which were very similar even though they were over 100 years apart. Takahashi is obsessed with what his ancestor actually did and finds out as much about the past as possible. As well as the two uprisings, Mitsu and Takahashi also had had a brother than was beaten to death some years ago when the village decided to attack the local Koreans who were living in a separate area of the village. This instance is constantly revisited as both brothers have completely different recollections of what happened. However, what remains similar is the mindless violence, in all three occasions. Although what actually happened in the 1860s isn't ever clear, Takahashi tells stories of it to the other young men to get them riled up about what they are doing at present. He tells them of how the men in the village had once tried to rape girls from another village and how an entire village once smashed the heads in of a group of men for not much reason, which the group of young men find absolutely hilarious. The descriptions are quite strong and uncomfortable, as it quite a lot in this book. Although some parts aren't exactly easy to read they really are effective in making you see how impressionable people can be, and how violence can be taken out of context when someone gives a random reason to it.
The violence in this novel isn't the only part that is hard to read, there is a feeling of being uncomfortable from beginning to end, with the unusual death of Mitsus friends, his mentally ill baby, and his aunt who he lives with in the village, who is names 'the fattest woman in Japan', as she does nothing but sit and eat all day. However, Mitsu remains detached, and very much the voice of reason throughout. He lets the reader see the madness in his brother and how the villagers were easily taken in by him, as he remains apart from the mob mentality he has almost an outsiders point of view, even though he is very much inside too, being the brother of the mobs ringleader. Although this book isn't an easy read I still think it's fantastic. Although these things don't really happen anymore, especially not in England, them having happened isn't totally unheard of. Groups getting together and reacting violently to something, with them thinking it's an ok way to behave, is unthinkable to most people. However, this books shows how and why such eventualities can happen, and how people can be pursuaded into doing things they would never normally consider acceptable. Although the villagers seem ok with what's happening they are unaware that it is all being inspired by a mentally unstable youth who is just obsessed with creating the uprising created by his grandfathers brother, and specifically wants to create violence with no purpose. The book is actually quite moving and makes you see things in quite a different light.
The book is, after all, called 'The Silent Cry'. This is shown through the characters, who all have something deeply wrong with them which they feel unable to express to others, starting with Mitsus friend who killed himself to each other major character you come across. Each of them have some problem inside them which should, by rights, be shouted so loud that no one can ignore it. However, the cry remains silent, each character having to deal with their own problems independently, going unnoticed by everyone else. Although they all have this in common the main characters are excellently written and all very different from each other.
The characters and the book is altogether fantastically written, it shows a much darker psyche of the Japanese and alternative view of Japan to what is commonly perceived. It is very much a story set in Japan, but has so much more too it than that. It is a look at how people behave and interact with each other, and how one person can cause so much harm. The book is quite violent in parts, so I know it wont be for everyone, but if you like the sound of it, and want something a bit different, I would definitely urge you to give it a read as soon as possible.