Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Stones Cry Out

Although a brief novel the perspectives in The Stones Cry Out/Ishi no Raireki carry an extraordinary depth and resonance, Hikaru Okuizumi was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for it back in 1994 and translated into English by James Westerhoven. The events in this short novel are given to us from Manase a soldier in hiding  after fighting in the Battle of Leyte, the remaining soldiers find themselves regrouping in caves preparing to reorganise themselves for their final battle, many of the soldiers are suffering from malnutrition and malaria. Manase finds himself next to an emaciated Lance Corporeal who is near death, over and over the man talks of stones and Geology - Even the smallest stone in a riverbed has the entire history of the universe inscribed upon it - these are the book's opening lines they begin to take on the form of a mantra that echoes around the events in Manase's life and the novel. In command of the soldiers is a ruthless Captain, suffering from gangrene himself, he orders that all those near death kill themselves or be killed, after they refuse to carry out his orders he does it himself, Manase hears their pleas and these scenes as well of the Captain ordering them to kill reoccur throughout the novel as the events in the cave are revisited throughout the novel as Manase reflects back on them. The soldiers are malnourished and there is a suggestion as Manase suspects of cannibalism, Manase himself seems to show signs of malnutrition, his memories begin to blank out until he finds himself as a prisoner held in the Philippines.  

Following the events of the war, Manase returns home, his parents initially from Tokyo left the city for Chichibu, after his father's death Manase sells the family's books, this small second hand business eventually grows into being a fully fledged book store, all the while Manase's obsession with stones and Geology begins to blossom, although an amateur Manase travels into the mountains to complete his collection, he's assisted by a local Geology teacher who offers expert advice, whilst collecting and polishing his collection Manase reflects on the war, the events in the cave and the Lance Corporeal whose talk of stones inspired Manase to look into stones to unfathom the secret and history of what they may contain. The narrative works in a number of subtle ways, after he is married it begins to evolve to take on the form of a family drama, throughout this though it takes on a broader panorama after one of his sons, the estranged Takaaki, becomes involved in the student upheavals later in the novel, but Manase's experiences in the war are present in the background, at times within the narrative the impression that as Manase is trying to come to terms with the nihilism and horror of his past Takaaki is beginning to enter a deadly political world.

Manase has two sons, Hiroaki shares his father's fascination with stones and they take trips into the mountains collecting them together, Manase is astonished how quickly Hiroaki picks up on the subject when he quizzes him on verifying stone types, in many instances the prose dips into reading like poetical geological descriptions of the stone's history and formation , Manase becomes slightly concerned about his son's solitariness,  not playing together with other children, they spend an almost dreamlike summer together collecting when Hiroaki is discovered murdered at the entrance of a quarry, he has been stabbed. After the murder the family begins to fall apart, his wife starts to drink heavily and blames him for Hiroaki's death, she makes him promise to leave Takaaki alone, the deteriorating relationship arrives at breaking point when Manase tries to take his wife to hospital in an attempt to cure her of her alcoholism, but the attempt goes badly, Takaaki ends up being moved to Manase's sister in laws. After his wife's hospitalization they divorce, on his own Manase's finds himself talking to the shadow he sees of Hiroaki, in his feverish dreams he goes to the quarry where Hiroaki was murdered, looking in between the fence he can see a light inside, looking more closely he makes out a fire and a man sitting next to it, he begins to hear the Captain's voice making his demands to kill the dying men, he wakes in desperation. As the novel reaches it's end the convergence of the two narratives begin to increasingly merge in the quarry where Hiroaki was murdered with that of the cave in Leyte, to try and describe how Okuizumi links the two together would be to deny it of some of it's redemptive power, but it displays something of the miraculous in galvanising the past with the present, and reversely the present with the past, a novel well recommended to seek out.
Finishing the novel, through it's name I was reminded of Jim Crace's novel The Gift of Stones, which in turn made me think of Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain and the recent prize winning The Garden of Evening Mists, which I think I might head to in the near future.              

More on Hikaru Okuizumi at J'Lit 

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