(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Silent Cry tells of two brothers, Mitsusaburo (“Mitsu”) and Takashi Nedokoro, who return to their native village in Southeast Japan in order to find out about their family’s involvement in a peasant riot in 1860, and perhaps to begin a new life. The course of the events is related by Mitsu; far from being linear and objective, his deliberately stylized account is characterized by subjective similes and frequent excursions into the past.

The novel opens at predawn with the narrator’s descent into a septic-tank pit at his Tokyo home. While Mitsu is alone on the wet ground, his thoughts introduce all the events and topics, which like gigantic leitmotifs manifest the novel’s underlying symbolic structure. Suffering from the loss “of some ardent sense of expectation,” Mitsu remembers the bizarre suicide of his best friend, with whom he shared a successful career translating books about animals: The friend painted his head red, “stripped, thrust a cucumber up his anus, and hanged himself.” The narrator is convinced that this act was a silent cry to tell some important truth. With clues too equivocal, however, Mitsu cannot grasp what it might be and must go on with life quite literally half blind from a childhood accident which has rendered his right eye useless.

Upon his return from America, Takashi challenges Mitsu, whose wife has taken solace in cheap whiskey since their mentally retarded baby was given away to an institution. Takashi, who calls his brother a rat, confronts him with the idea of starting anew in their native village. There, “the Emperor,” a local upstart, plans to buy the family’s hundred-year-old storehouse in order to use it as a fancy restaurant in Tokyo. Furthermore, Takashi wants to learn the truth about their great-grandfather, who built the storehouse, and his younger brother, who led the peasant youths during the 1860 uprising. Supported by some historical evidence, Mitsu insists that the younger brother had sold out and died a member of the establishment; this is a vision which Takashi refuses to accept.

Upon their arrival in Okubo, Mitsu soon sets up solitary residence in the storehouse and refuses to become involved in the life of the village. Takashi, who brought with him a young mechanic, Hoshio, and a teenage girl, Momoko, takes a liking to Mitsu’s wife Natsumi and begins to get active on behalf of the village’s young men’s association, whose chicken farm has been wiped out as a result of food scarcity and an early cold. His commitment brings Takashi into conflict with the Emperor, the financial backer of the farm whose supermarket (one of a huge chain) has ruined the other stores in the...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)