Somersault by Kenzaburo Oe

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Synopsis

The first new novel Oe has published since winning the Nobel Prize, Somersault is a magnificent story of the charisma of leaders, the danger of zealotry, and the mystery of faith.

A decade before the story opens, two men referred to as the Patron and Guide of mankind were leaders of an influential religious movement. When a radical faction of their followers threatened to unleash an apocalypse, they recanted all of their teachings and abandoned their followers. Now, after ten years of silence, Patron and Guide begin contacting their old followers and reaching out to the public, assisted by a small group of young people who have come to them in recent months.

Just as they are beginning this renewed push, the radical faction kidnaps Guide, holding him captive until his health gives out. Patron and a small core of the faithful, including a painter named Kizu who may become the new Guide, move to the mountains to establish the church’s new base, followed by two groups from Patron’s old church: the devout Quiet Women, and the Technicians, who have ties to the old radical faction. The Baby Fireflies, young men from a nearby village, attempt to influence the church with local traditions and military discipline. As planning proceeds for the summer conference that will bring together the faithful and launch the new church in the eyes of the world, the conflicting agendas of these factions threaten to make a mockery of the church’s unity—or something far more dangerous.
 

About Kenzaburo Oe

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Kenzaburo Oe was born in 1935 in Ose, a mountain village on Japanrsquo;s Shikoku Island. He graduated in French literature from Tokyo University and became a full-time writer in 1959. He has won many international literary honors, including the 1989 Prix Europalia and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
 
Published May 16, 2011 by Grove Press. 576 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Somersault

Kirkus Reviews

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Newly prominent figures include “radical” physician Dr. Koga, a brain-damaged musical savant (another fictionalization of Oe’s own son Hikari), the narrowly fervent “Quiet Women,” and the menacing leader of the ardent “Young Fireflies,” teenaged true believer Gii.

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The Guardian

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Somersault by Kenzaburo Oe translated by Philip Gabriel 570pp, Atlantic, £16.99 The six-page prologue to Kenzaburo Oe's new novel, his first since being awarded the 1994 Nobel prize for literature, is a masterpiece of symbolic compression.

Aug 02 2003 | Read Full Review of Somersault

Publishers Weekly

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It is Kizu and Ikuo's story that rises above room temperature, Kizu's sharp, painterly intelligence contrasting with Ikuo's rather sinister ardor.

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Star Tribune

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Review: Oe's first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in 1994 is an ambitious but disappointing rumination on religious zealotry that explores the inner life of a cult with parallels to Aum Shinrikyo, the terrorist group responsible for the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

Apr 26 2003 | Read Full Review of Somersault

London Review of Books

and, although it is often a question of art in Oe – the great Jonah triptych here, the Tantric Buddhist painting of hell in The Silent Cry – my sense is that, as in Hegel, the aesthetic centre of gravity has shifted imperceptibly towards ritual rather than in the direction of the autonomous work ...

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