(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburō Ōe’s novel, Somersault, is about two men known as Patron and Guide who were leaders of a religious movement in Japan that taught its believers to prepare for the coming apocalypse. When a radical faction of their church tried to actually bring about the apocalypse by threatening to blow up a nuclear power plant, the two told everyone that their religion was just a joke and turned their backs on their followers—a somersault of their beliefs, in other words.

A decade later, Patron and Guide try to bring the church back to life. With the help of an assistant called Dancer, they bring others into their group, including an art professor named Kizu and his model/lover Ikuo. When Guide is murdered, Patron says that he needs another person to be Guide, and he chooses Kizu. What follows is a story of a religious movement led by Patron, who may either be a charlatan or a cult leader who is finally willing to take lives to reach salvation.

Somersault flows smoothly and has a unique writing style of description at the start of almost every section followed by a monologue at the end. However, the story itself is mixed. The parts of Somersault where people try to discover and hang on to their faith is interesting, but it is also unsettling because it is about a radical belief which parallels one that exists in real life: the cult Aum Shinrikyo, which poisoned people on Japan’s subway system in the 1990’s. This unease is probably intentional on Oe’s part.