Since his youth, renowned novelist Kogito Choko planned to fictionalize his father s fatal drowning in order to fully process the loss. Stricken with guilt and regret over his failure to rescue his father, Choko has long been driven to discover why his father was boating on the river in a torrential storm. Though he remembers overhearing his father and a group of soldiers discussing an insurgent scheme to stage a suicide attack on Emperor Mikado, Choko cannot separate his memories from imagination and his family is hesitant to reveal the entire story. When the contents of the trunk turn out to offer little clarity, Choko abandons the novel in creative despair. Floundering as an artist, he s haunted by fear that he may never write his tour de force. But when he collaborates with an avant-garde theater troupe dramatizing his early novels, Kogito is revitalized by revisiting his formative work and he finds the will to continue investigating his father s demise.
Diving into the turbulent depths of legacy and mortality, Death by Water is an exquisite examination of resurfacing national and personal trauma, and the ways that storytelling can mend political, social, and familial rifts."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-08-03
- Reviewer: Staff
Layered and reflexive, Nobel winner Oe’s (The Changeling) novel concerns itself with an elderly writer, Kogito Choko, whose inability to write “the drowning novel,” a fictional account of his father’s death by drowning, threatens both his health and his plans to provide for his family after his death. As a child, Choko—then called Kogii—witnessed his father’s ill-fated boat trip in the Shikoku forest region of his childhood. When he revisits the forests and delves into the area’s history and folklore at his sister Asa’s invitation, he discovers not only other witnesses to his father’s voyage—including a nationalist former disciple of his dad’s—but that “the materials in the red leather trunk” required for his research were destroyed by his mother long ago. Bereft, Choko finds himself cooperating with an experimental theater troupe, who wish to adapt his body of work for the stage using the visionary Unaiko’s “throwing the dead dogs” method, whereupon meta-narrative discussion and the throwing of stuffed dogs occur on stage. Choko’s disappointment over the uselessness of the red leather trunk’s contents drives him to lash out at his adult, intellectually disabled composer son, Akari, and when his wife, Chikashi, undergoes treatment for a serious illness, she’s most concerned about this unprecedented rift between father and son. Told in echoing and overlapping accounts of conversations, telephone calls, and stage performances, Oe’s deceptively tranquil idiom scans the violent history of postwar Japan and its present-day manifestations, in the end finding redemption. Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)