Beasts Head for Home by Kōbō Abe, translated by Richard F. Calichman [in Booklist]
Japan’s defeat in WWII not only meant decimation at home but also resulted in the postwar repatriation of Japan’s colonial diaspora of more than four million citizens from throughout Asia. Among the dispossessed in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, China’s Manchuria, is Kuki Kyūzō, an ethnic Japanese 19-year-old whose single-minded goal after losing his mother is to “return” to Japan, a place he’s only “imagined from textbooks at school” and where he knows no one. His homeward odyssey is a surreal blend of horrific terror and seemingly impossible coincidences as Kyūzō flees the Soviet military, withstands a train wreck, becomes embroiled in a drug deal, and eventually gets trapped aboard a mysterious ship.
This early work of acclaimed Japanese writer Abe is finally available in English, and Calichman’s adroit translation also provides an essential context-establishing introduction. Abe’s novel is testimony to survival despite gruesome odds as well as a chilling warning about the cost to humanity of such struggles. The titular “beasts” may indeed head for home, but what awaits at the journey’s end is anything but welcoming.
Published: 1957 (Japan), 2017 (United States)