The Music of Light

While studying art in Japan, author Lindsley Cameron became acquainted with well-known and somewhat controversial author Kenzaburō Oē, who had written semi-autobiographical novels and essays based on his experiences with his son. Oē’s son, Hikari, was born with a brain deformity that required surgery that left him with impaired IQ, diminished eyesight, and poor coordination. The doctors suggested that he be allowed to die, but the Oēs defied Japanese tradition, keeping their son alive, raising him at home, taking him out in public, and trying to maximize his abilities. Father and son developed a very close relationship revealed in intimate detail to the world through Oē’s fiction and essays. After listening to recordings of birdsongs, Hikari displayed a talent for music, particularly composing. Collections of his pieces, released on CD in the 1990’s, became quite popular, making Hikari a celebrity in his own right.

Cameron, who interviewed the Oēs for this work, is at her best when describing the story of Hikari’s life and analyzing his father’s fictionalized accounts of their relationship. The chapters on musical savants and the sources of creativity are less interesting, although perhaps a necessary part of the work. Overall, The Music of Light: The Extraordinary Story of Hikari and Kenzaburo Oē is a fascinating account of an unusual relationship between a remarkable father and son as well as a thought-provoking look at the process behind Kenzaburo Oē’s fiction.