The MUSIC OF LIGHT: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF HIKARI AND KENZABURO OE

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9780684824093: The MUSIC OF LIGHT: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF HIKARI AND KENZABURO OE

The most popular classical composer of our day was born with a medical deformity so severe that his parents had to fight to keep him alive. They named him Hikari, which means "light"; now in his thirties, with an I.Q. of 65, limited language and motor skills, and an inability to express emotions clearly, Hikari has indeed become a beacon of inspiration. He has miraculous musical gifts, including a phenomenal memory and the ability to compose chamber works that have broken sales records and delighted hundreds of thousands of listeners. His father's boundless love for and devotion to Hikari have been inspirational in more than one way. Kenzaburo Oe has written many novels and essays based on the experience of raising his musical-savant son, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994. Based on exclusive access to the Oe family, as well as interviews with brain specialists and performers of Hikari's music, and including assessments by leading music critics, The Music of Light offers a portrait of uniqueness. Hikari is the only savant known in history who has composed original music. Lindsley Cameron explains how his brain works; how he can express sadness in his music but not with language or his face; and how his musical activities have extended his mental capacities.

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Review:

In The Music of Light, Lindsley Cameron chronicles the Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe's remarkable relationship with his son Hikari. Although Hikari was born with a severe brain deformity that resulted in retardation, autism, near-blindness, and poor coordination, he has become an accomplished composer of classical music. Kenzaburo Oe, the winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, has written much about Hikari and the rest of his family over the years. Cameron studies the intersections between Oe's life and work in this volume. She also discusses the nature of creativity, the scientific theories about brain injuries, and the history of musical savants.

Oe's close relationship with his son is unusual, especially in Japanese society, where men do not usually get very involved with raising their children. While helping Hikari deal with his health problems, the Oe family struggled to cope with their culture's severe discrimination against disabled people. Cameron describes Hikari's musical development and his amazing ability to memorize songs. Hikari's life story is an inherently fascinating one--a man who cannot express himself very well verbally somehow figured out how to do something most people cannot do: make up songs. Cameron interviewed both men and other family members for this book, and has done a good job of capturing their personalities on paper. Hikari and Kenzaburo Oe influence each other's work tremendously, and the elder Oe's writing and fame have had an enormous impact on the family's life. Fans of Kenzaburo Oe and people who are interested in the roots of creativity will find a lot to like in this book. --Jill Marquis

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"Monster Baby"

On June 13, 1963, in Tokyo, Kenzaburo and Yukari Oe, one of the most glamorous couples in Japan, had a very unusual baby, their first child. A world-famous figure now, Kenzaburo, at twenty-eight, was one of his country's most famous writers; even at such an early age, he had already been famous for years.

He had come from the boondocks -- from the remote south-western island of Shikoku. He was born and grew up in a village so tiny that it was eventually legislated out of existence. The Oes were a good family, prosperous small landowners who came down in the world as a result of the postwar land reforms. Kenzaburo's father had been in charge of an operation that pulped tree bark for the Japanese government to use in printing paper money. He was in some ways a rather mysterious figure, revealing little to his children about earlier phases of his life, when he had traveled in China and perhaps in other countries, too; he knew several foreign languages. He had died when Kenzaburo was nine, and Kenzaburo's mother has been either unable or unwilling to tell him much about the father he never had a chance to know as an adult. Kenzaburo's emotions about the father he lost so early -- and about whom he had so frustratingly little information -- found their way into his fiction eventually and were also undoubtedly a strong factor in his own approach to fatherhood. His wife also lost her father at an early age; this must have been a source not only of the couple's closeness to each other but also of the depth of their determined involvement with their children.

Kenzaburo's mother was set on finding educational opportunities for her talented son. "I was a very vulnerable boy in my village," Kenzaburo would later say, "very weak, speaking strangely, and always thinking and reading many books. My mother protected me, and she was determined that I should escape." Today, Kenzaburo is plainly grateful to his mother, and their relationship is obviously an affectionate one, yet he tells many stories about his mother's wry putdowns of his literary achievements. He understands that she is teasing him, but at the same time, he says, "she is sincere." His own style of humor is often gleefully self-deprecatory, but when he talks in that vein about his mother, one senses a wistfulness under the impish enjoyment. He spent the difficult years of his late boyhood having been abandoned by his father -- through death -- with a mother who was loving and protective, but who tended not to express her affection with direct warmth; these factors surely affected his own style of parenthood.

In high school, Kenzaburo found a friend who seems to have provided some compensation for what was missing at home: a big, tough, savvy kid called Ikeuchi, who decided to take Kenzaburo under his wing. Under the name Juzo Itami, this friend went on to become a movie star and is now one of Japan's most famous directors, with such international hits as A Taxing Woman. His father had been a director, screenwriter, and essayist; using the stage name Mansaku Itami, he was a key figure in the early development of Japanese cinema. Kenzaburo says today that meeting Juzo Itami "was the start of all my happiness," for besides ensuring his survival among the high-school bullies, Juzo introduced him to his lovely younger sister, Yukari, whom Kenzaburo later married. The first time he saw her, she was doing some chore in the yard when he had gone to the Ikeuchis' house with her brother. She could never remember that occasion, but Kenzaburo could never forget it: "It was always that way with me and pretty girls," he says.

Kenzaburo's older brother worked to finance Kenzaburo's studies at Tokyo University, the most prestigious and competitive in the country. Kenzaburo was a highly promising student, majoring in French literature, but it was the fiction he wrote while still an undergraduate that brought him his early fame. "The Catch," a short story, won the Akutagawa Prize, one of Japan's top literary awards, and is now considered a classic. It has an oddly prophetic moment; a black American airman is held prisoner in a remote Japanese village, guarded by the local children, including the narrator. When the American takes the boy hostage, grabbing him by the throat and threatening to strangle him if the adults come any closer, the boy's father can save his son's life only by maiming him, crushing the child's hand with the hatchet he uses to kill the soldier. Five years after writing it, Kenzaburo would face a similar decision about saving his own son's life.

Kenzaburo married Yukari Ikeuchi in 1960. She was not only beautiful but artistically gifted. Within a year of their marriage, the talented young couple were facing extraordinary trials. A fearlessly rebellious writer in a time of intense political turmoil in Japanese history, Kenzaburo was often in the news. In 1961, a highly controversial story, "Seventeen," concerning an actual event in the previous year -- the assassination of the chairman of the Socialist Party by a rightist youth of that age -- had infuriated conservatives. They wanted to think of the assassin as an idealistic, heroic figure, but Oe's unsparing portrait shows a pathetic kid, not quite sane, in a society that offers nothing to shore up his weaknesses.

"Seventeen" had provoked death threats and other nerve-wracking forms of harassment from right-wing extremists -- thugs bellowing insults in front of the Oes' house, rocks thrown through the windows of Kenzaburo's study, constant menacing, middle-of-the-night phone calls. The publisher of the magazine in which the story appeared, terrified in the wake of an assassination attempt (by another seventeen-year-old rightist) on another liberal publisher, which left his wife wounded and a maid dead, printed a public apology for having published Oe's story. Because Oe did not disassociate himself from this apology, angry leftists began attacking him, too, accusing him of cowardice.

Kenzaburo Oe could have had a successful career as a scholar, but he chose to be a creative writer instead. And his writing enraged his enemies and alienated his friends. He felt that he had made the wrong choice, but that it was too late to resume an academic career. Oe wrote later that he spent the years from 1961 to 1963 falling deeper and deeper into a suicidal funk. Speaking of these years, he told an American journalist, "I continued to write, but my work was not so good. I was thinking of giving up writing novels."

When Yukari learned that she was pregnant in 1962, Kenzaburo and she had every reason to hope that the birth of their first child might pull him out of his slump of self-doubt, giving him a new sense of purpose, and of hope. During her pregnancy, Kenzaburo wrote a two-part novella that sheds some light on his state of mind at the time. Its title -- literally, Sexual Humans -- is difficult to translate and has sometimes been rendered Homo Sexualis, sometimes Perverts. When an English-language edition finally came out in 1996, it was called J, after its main character. The last half of this novella is a masterpiece, but while it is exhilarating to read, it could have been written only by a deeply disillusioned -- and perhaps only by a deeply despairing -- man. J is the spoiled young son of a steel magnate. J's first wife has killed herself. His father's money having rendered J immune to the usual social constraints, he leads a dissolute life, of which the novella's opening, describing an orgiastic weekend in the country with his second wife and their friends, gives an example. But the dissipations that his wealth makes possible do not move him, and in the second part of the story, he has surrendered to a compulsion to molest women on public transportation. His only emotional connections are with two fellow molesters. One of them is a young poet who justifies

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