This volume compiles a series of five conversations between two Japanese literary giants who remain active and outspoken on a variety of social issues as they approach their 80th birthdays. Kenzaburō Ōe is two years older than Yoshikichi Furui. Both lived through World War II and the nation’s defeat while still children, and both went on to study in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Tokyo?Ōe in the department of French literature, Furui in the department of German literature?and were greatly influenced by their foreign literary studies from the outset of their careers as writers. The conversations, which took place between 1993 and 2015, reveal their deep familiarity with and respect for each other’s works and are filled with intellectually stimulating and thrilling give-and-take about those works, as well as about broader literary concerns.
Ōe reflects on how in writing Man’en gannen no futtobōru (tr. The Silent Cry) in 1967, he deliberately abandoned the relatively simple and straightforward approach he had been using since his maiden work for a more complex writing style, and immediately began taking criticism for being abstruse. Furui responds by speaking of how his early works, through his thirties, were dominated by a single rhythm, but he began to hear a variety of different beats in his forties, and this played a crucial role in his continuing to be able to write.
Ōe also recalls how he was dead set against the “I-novel” (shishōsetsu or watakushi shōsetsu) early in his career, but adopted the style for his own writing after the birth of his mentally disabled son. The ensuing in-depth discussion of the form with Furui, whose recent output has been almost exclusively I-novels, is illuminating. The discussions also extend to poetry and classical literature as well as to such topics as growing old, with never a dull moment as each writer offers lucid insights into every subject they discuss.
In the second conversation, titled Hyakunen no tanpen shōsetsu o yomu (Reading a Century of Short Stories), the two offer incisive critiques of 35 stories by 35 authors published in the literary magazine Shinchō between the Meiji period (1868?1912) and the present (1996). In the course of their hundred-year survey of these modern Japanese stories, both men voice a sense of crisis regarding the future of Japanese literature. The book is an excellent guide for any reader wishing to draw a bird’s-eye map of modern and contemporary Japanese literature.