Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids - Kenzaburō Ōe, Paul St. John Mackintosh, Maki Sugiyama
This is a harsh tale, and the first-person narration is written in short, hard sentences, in simple blunt words, very corporeal, unsparing of ugly bodily details; emotions are depicted simply, mostly harsh emotions, but allowing for moments of joy and tenderness. It's an unusual style, over the course of the book it increasingly seemed to me unique.

The story, though, invites comparison to others: the situation is similar to that in The Lord of the Flies, but playing out quite differently. These boys, evacuated in wartime, are unexpectedly abandoned to themselves. But they're reformatory boys, the unwanted and imprisoned, and in spite of their little group being wracked by fear and uncertainty, they cling together; in spite of occasional dominance struggles between the narrator who's sort of the leader of the group, and Minami who's the other most prominent personality, they remain friends. The world of the grownups is corrupt and brutal, this is something that the narrator comes to understand clearly, and he can also see possibilities for things to be otherwise. Yet after all these young people are part of society, they have trouble thinking of alternatives to it, and they too participate in its corruption in some ways -- it's complex. Will they grow up without learning from their experiences? Will society co-opt them, "nipping in the bud" their moral growth? The ending is like Catch-22, the one who can see clearly fleeing alone into an uncertain future.

Does it make a difference that the narrator survived and is telling us this story? Does it make a difference that Kenzaburo Oe survived the war and the militarization of Japan to write this novel? This is a shout of rage, urging the young generation to remember the past and reject it; it is one of the classics of teen rebellion, like Rebel Without a Cause or Zéro de conduite. In the introduction, the author is quoted saying that this was his "happiest" novel that gave him a feeling of "liberation" as he wrote it. Anger can be a gust of fresh air; this novel may be liberating, but it takes the reader through strong, almost unbearable emotions on the way there.

I might have rated this five stars, but I'd have to read it again to decide on that. It troubles me that women are not present at all except as relates to the narrator's sexuality. I don't yet have any thoughts about the important role that sex plays in the novel. In any case, the weaknesses of the translation bring the rating down a bit.