Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by Kenzaburō Ōe is a collection of 4 novella length stories detailing strange occurrences and of people going mad. The first, ‘The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away’, is about a man who believes he has liver cancer and is describing to the nurse about his father (who died from bladder cancer), his grieving mother, the emperor, and his brother who was killed during the war. It is a fascinating and sometimes confusing story where the man used to look up to his father but has difficulties understanding his place in the world. The second story, ‘Prize Stock’, is about a boy in a village that has captured an American pilot who crash landed in the forest. The boy is apprehensive and curious about the American while they begin to get along. However, when the American is about to be given over to the Japanese military, the American holds the boy hostage, which ends in the killing of the American by the boy’s father. I was drawn in by the way the boy sees and interacts with the American and how he digests his father’s actions. The third story, ‘Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness’, is about a father whose son has a disability and is fierce in trying to protect the boy’s innocence. Though, at a zoo, the father feels helpless in trying to protect his son, and it starts cracking his understanding of himself. This particular story was based on Ōe’s own experiences with his disabled son. And finally, the last story, ‘Aghwee the Sky Monster’, is about a young man who helps out a composer haunted by his dead son in the sky. The young man helps the composer right his wrongs, destroy his work, and say goodbye to the places he loved before the composer attempts to kill himself by walking in front of a truck.
Each story is beautiful, haunting, and powerful in how death, grief, and terrible life circumstances affect and change the outlooks of the characters. It is painful to see how each character’s “madness” reveals itself and what they must do to right their wrongs. It is a collection of what it means to be a father, a son, and what happens when the world between the two falls apart.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.