Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oë

It seemed to me that our single grave was going to spread out forever all over the world. 

This book was a little hard to get a hold of (I have had it on my ‘want’ list for nearly a year before I could get a new copy) and once I started it I was immediately hit by how bleak and stark Oë’s wartime Japan was compared to the other books that I have read since Christmas. Compared to the junky numbness of Naked Lunch, the time-travelling surrealism of Slaughterhouse 5, the aromatic richness of Perfume, and the encapsulated Americana paranoia of The Crying of Lot 49, this book pulls very few punches.

It is not that it has a lack of attention to detail, or a tendency to stick to the mundane (it is also not to say that some of the aforementioned books didn’t have their bleak moments; not at all). This is the cold hard slap of real life as experienced by you, the reader. Nip the Buds… is the story of a group of reformatory boys who are sent to a rural village in the mountains to work during the war, where they are reviled by the locals. Soon after their arrival, plague breaks out and the boys are abandoned and barricaded in by the villagers, left to die. As the blurb puts it so well, ‘The boys’ brief and doomed attempt to build autonomous lives of self-respect, love and tribal valour fails in the face of death and the adult nightmare of war.’ 

There are obvious comparisons to be cast here with Lord of the Flies, amongst others, and its obvious anger, its painful confrontation of Japanese society and the myriad reasons that made Oë the winner of 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature make this a book that everyone should (if they can) pick up and give a read. Also, it’s one hell of a literary debut.

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