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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ōe Kenzaburō

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Title: 治療塔
Author: Ōe Kenzaburō
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990
Length: 304 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Therapiestation - Deutschland
  • 治療塔 has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : (too) many ideas, too little focus

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 20/1/1996 Peter Demetz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Er ist allzu freien und quirligen Geistes, um sich mit den Konventionen der Science-fiction-Gattung zu begnügen. In der Therapiestation ist zuviel durcheinandergeraten, Gattungsstruktur und autobiographisches Interesse, Imitation und Intelligenz, Programm und Phantasie; und selbst die pazifistische Großmutter, die den Repräsentanten der Macht mit seinem Schuß aus der Laserpistole außer Gefecht setzt, bezeugt eher die besten Absichten des Autors als, in diesem Falle, sein Vermögen, lebhafte Charaktere zu bilden." - Peter Demetz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

Note: this review is based on the German translation of 治療塔 by Verena Werner, Therapiestation (1995)

       治療塔 ('Therapy Tower') is set in the near future. Catastrophes saw the near-ruin of the earth from pollution and nuclear war, and in an effort to save humanity an immense global space-project led to a million 'chosen ones' being sent into space. A mere decade after the 大出発 ('Great Departure') ... they're back. The colonization of a 'new earth' apparently didn't go quite as well as hoped for -- not everyone turns back, but a significant number do -- and the returnees apparently figure that instead they'll fix up the home planet again. What they had not counted on was that there would be so many survivors on earth. Yes, AIDS (the novel was published in 1990), pollution, famine, and radioactive fallout have taken their toll, but there earth is still a pretty crowded place.
       The chosen ones who return feel and act superior -- they were the select a decade earlier, after all, and see themselves as the select now -- and want to impose their will and system back on earth too. Spartan oligarchy is the model -- and they already have plans to, for example, forbid marriage between the returnees from space and those who had been left behind in the first place. By and large, they stand opposition-less: the unions have been broken, there is no student activism, and there are no true oppositional political parties. (Here and throughout, Ōe remains defined (and to some extent trapped) in the Japan that formed him, imagining the oppositional forces that shaped postwar Japan, such as unions and student activism, as obvious avenues even in this future-world; so to the roots-based alternative that eventually comes to the fore sounds, here, more like a counter-culture relic of the 1970s than of the twenty-first century.)
       The novel is narrated by Ritsuko -- nicknamed Ritchan -- who was a teen away at a Swiss boarding school when everything went south, but who miraculously made it back to Japan during the time of the 'Great Departure' -- though at enormous personal cost. She has relatives who were involved in the space program -- and becomes romantically involved with Sakuchan (Kita Saku), one of the returnees from space -- who, however, isn't fully on board with the program the powers that be want to impose.
       War and the destruction of nature had set back living standards on earth, and even after a decade of reconstruction in Japan, for example, conditions still haven't gotten back to the levels of 1960-Japan. Concerns Ōe has addressed in much of his work feature prominently here -- including in darker form, the atomic threat now a realized one, and radiation poisoning still an issue. S, for example, Minamata-disease -- the syndrome caused by mercury poisoning, first identified in 1950s Japan -- is now a worldwide problem.
       Meanwhile, Ōe posits a world in which religion was (rapidly) watered down and simplified -- with a 'world religion', taking elements from many of them also rising in their stead . (It is in this that Ōe's science fiction differs most from any Western future-visions: it seems almost unimaginable to find religion taking on less, rather than greater significance, much less for there to be less fanaticism in any European- or American-imagined futures.)
       Ritchan and Sakuchan's semi-forbidden love is a major part of the story. Because of what happened to Ritchan when she was a teen, making her way back to Japan, there is some concern that she has AIDS. To be identified as HIV-positive means being removed from society, so Ritchan had never had herself tested. (Again, the novel's 1990 publication date reveals itself in how the subject-matter is handled: the term 'HIV-positive' isn't ever used, AIDS is a death sentence, and ostracism of anyone with the disease standard policy.) Ōe devotes significant space to Ritchan's insistence on the use of a condom when she has sex with Sakuchan, and then the considerable drama around her getting an AIDS-test. Found to be AIDS-free, the couple engage in unprotected sex and Ritchan is soon pregnant -- symbolic hope for the future. Here, as elsewhere, Ōe very obviously contrasts what amounts to the unnatural (sex with a condom, which prevents the basic reproductive purpose of sex) and the 'natural' -- unprotected, procreative sex.
       A striking feature of the returnees is that they apparently haven't aged while they were away. Ten years have passed, and physically they aren't any older. Only eventually is the cause for this revealed -- and it has to do with 'therapy towers' of the title. It is these, too, and their power that caused tremendous conflict among those who tried to recreate civilization on the 'new earth' in outer space. And again, the fundamental question of the 'natural' vs. the 'unnatural' is central -- the clever twist being that unlike the unnatural horrors mankind has unleashed on earth (pollution, radiation, etc.) the unnatural aspect of the therapy towers appears to be a boon, and entirely positive. Ōe -- and many of those in space -- nevertheless question it, arguing that taking advantage of it also undermines the fundamentals of humanity and what it means to be human.
       It's a quite clever idea and question, at the heart of the novel, but Ōe's story is spread way too thin, going off in a variety of directions and repeatedly losing focus. Reliance on many issues he has addressed throughout his work -- such as the dangers of nuclear power and weapons, pollution, the treatment of the disabled -- also come up here, but are used almost too familiarly: the appearance of a musically gifted disabled young man named Hikari -- Ōe's son, in other words -- isn't entirely far-fetched, but as with much else he throws in for good measure both more than a bit puzzling and confusing.
       Ōe has a lot he seems to want to say and convey, but he stumbles over much it with his unwieldy story that never really takes proper shape. There are many fine elements here, but the novel as a whole feels quite flabby. And while it may have had greater impact when it appeared in 1990 because of the immediacy of so much Ōe refers to, those same elements now feel too obviously dated, and as a consequence the novel hasn't aged particularly well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2017

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治療塔: Reviews: Ōe Kenzaburō: Other books by Ōe Kenzaburō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Ōe Kenzaburō (大江 健三郎) was born in 1935. He was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize.

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