First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
The first novel by Japan’s most celebrated living writer, Nip The Buds, Shoot the Kids recounts the exploits of fifteen teenage reformatory boys evacuated to a remote mountain village in wartime. The narrator who acts as nominal leader of the small band, his younger brother and their comrades are all delinquent outcasts, feared and detested by the local peasants. When plague breaks out, their hosts abandon them and flee, then blockade them inside the empty village, together with a young Korean, an army deserter and a girl evacuee. However, the boys’ brief, doomed attempt to build autonomous lives of self-respect, love and tribal valour inevitably fails with the reflux of death and the adult nightmare of war.
Nip The Buds, Shoot the Kids encapsulates all the qualities that distinguish Oe’s writing: his radical anger; his evocation of myth and archetype and his extraordinary poetic style. Distilling a vast range of influences from Twain and Golding to Mailer and Camus, it burns with the agony of the existential hero in a time and place where any deviancy meets with savage retribution.
Indisputably the greatest post-war Japanese novelist, Kenzaburo Oe has won every major national literary prize, many international awards, including the 1989 Prix Europalia, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994. He is also revered as the conscience of Japan’s modern left. His translated works include Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, A Personal Matter, and The Silent Cry.
And month-end closing activities are officially completed after days of overtime work. Today is also the first Friday of August. Over here in the Philippines, today marks the re-imposition of the strictest COVID19 lockdown protocols in response to the thread of the more virulent Delta variant. There was also a glaring increase in cases over the past few days, peaking today as the Philippines again logged over 10,000 cases, the highest since April 17. It has become exhausting, both physically and mentally, but I hope everyone is doing well in these uncertain times. I pray that this pandemic ends soon.
On a brighter note, it is again the weekend! But before I can fully embrace the weekend, let me close the week with a First Impression Friday update. Whilst July has already ended, I have decided to extend my stay in Japanese literature; this Olympic fever has certainly caught up with me. I am closing this journey with my current read, Kenzaburō Ōe’s Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids. I guess this is a fitting way to close my venture in Japanese literature as it was Ōe’s debut novel (something that I have recently learned). The novel was also listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
Honestly, I have initially been apprehensive about reading any of Ōe’s work. The winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, he has been a staunch critic of Haruki Murakami’s works. Despite this, he is a revered personality and he also won a handful of literary awards on top of his 1994 Nobel win. I perceived a certain gloominess over him which also made me hold back. Over time, however, my feelings changed, and got over my apprehensions. His first work I read, The Silent Cry, did underscore some of my initial impressions of him and his works but it also transported me into a different sphere of Japanese literature, one that enamored me to stay.
I have just started reading Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids today but I managed to complete two full chapters of the book. Whilst I was hoping to get some more introduction, the story immediately jumped into action. The story was narrated from the perspective of an anonymous boy; anonymous narrators, I have learned, are ubiquitous in Japanese literature. He and his younger brother are in a rural village. There are, so far, no signs of a parental figure except perhaps for the blacksmith. Apparently, the two boys find themselves in a reformatory along with other boys. The narrator acts as the leader.
Also published with the English title Pluck the Bud and Destroy the Offspring, the first two chapters have made me curious about the novel. I have learned that it is often compared to William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies but I am yet to read the novel. This, however, made me more interested to learn about the fate of the boys and the blacksmith. In the second chapter, it was mentioned that the signs of a plague have started to surface in the neighboring village. Animals and a couple of village people have passed away because of an unknown virus but the doctor is still unsure if this is a plague. From this, I am getting some chills for it reflects, to some extent, our current situation.
Apart from learning what will happen to the boys, I also want to learn the reasons why they found themselves in the reformatory. The narrator seems to loom above the story although I detect some hints of intelligence in him, and a tendency to challenge authority. The writing of Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids barely showed any signs that it was Ōe’s debut novel. I guess his earlier venture into short stories contributed to this. There is a certain maturity to the novel even though the narrator is a teenager, or perhaps even younger. I can’t wait to dissect the allegories subtly embedded into the narrative.
The novel is rather slender but I am in no rush to finish it although I just might over the weekend. How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!