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Authors: Kobo Abé

The Face of Another

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KOBO ABE
The Face of Another

Kobo Abe was born in Tokyo in 1924, grew up in Manchuria, and returned to Japan in his early twenties. In 1948 he received a medical degree from Tokyo Imperial University, but he never practiced medicine. Before his death in 1993, Abe was considered his country’s foremost living novelist, and was also widely known as a dramatist. His novels have earned many literary awards and prizes, and have all been bestsellers in Japan. They include
The Woman in the Dunes, Kangaroo Notebook, The Ark Sakura, The Face of Another, The Box Man
, and
The Ruined Map
.

Also by
KOBO ABE

NOVELS
Kangaroo Notebook
The Ark Sakura
The Ruined Map
The Box Man
Secret Rendezvous
The Woman in the Dunes
Inter Ice Age 4

SHORT STORIES
Beyond the Curve

PLAYS
Three Plays by Kobo Abe

Translated from the Japanese by

E. DALE SAUNDERS

FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, FEBRUARY 2003

Translation copyright © 1966, renewed 1995 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published as
Tanin No Kao
in Japan by Kodansha, Tokyo, copyright © 1964 by Kobo Abe. This translation first published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1966.

Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Abe, Kobo.
The face of another. [Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders.]
[Tanin no Kao. English]
New York, Knopf, 1966.
p. cm.
1. Japan—Fiction. I. Title.
PZ4.A13 Fact
66017968

eISBN: 978-0-307-81372-5

www.vintagebooks.com

v3.1

Contents
NOTE

The forty-four drawings in this volume
are by Robert Steele Wallace
.

A
T LAST
you have come, threading your way through the endless passages of the maze. With the map you got from
him
, you have finally found your way to my hideaway—the first room at the top of the creaking, harmonium-pedal stairs. You’ve mounted with somewhat shaky steps. You hold your breath and knock. Why is there no answer? Instead, only a young girl comes running like a kitten. She is supposed to open the door for you. You ask if there isn’t a message; the girl doesn’t answer but smiles and runs away.

You peep in, looking for
him
. But he isn’t there, not a trace is left; and an odor of ruin floats in the air. A dead room. Expressionless walls look back at you; you shudder. As you are about to go, though with a feeling of guilt, the three notebooks on the table, together with the letter, catch your eye, and you realize that you too are trapped at last. No matter how loathesome the thoughts that well up in you, you cannot resist the temptation. You have torn open the envelope with trembling hands, and now you are beginning to read the letter.

You are probably humiliated and angry. But I should like you to fix your eyes on the paper, though you don’t want to, and go on reading. I want so desperately for you to come safely through this moment and make a step toward me. Have I lost to
him
or has
he
lost to me? Either way, my masked play is over. I have murdered him, and I proclaim myself the criminal. I shall confess everything, entirely. Whether you act out of generosity or selfishness, I want you to go on reading. He
who has the right to sit in judgment also has the obligation to listen to the defendant’s statement.

You may be suspected, of course, of false complicity if you simply abandon me as I kneel here. Well, sit down; relax. If the air in the room is bad, open the window at once. A teapot and cups are in the kitchen if you want them. As soon as you settle down, the place will change instantaneously from a hideaway at the end of a maze into a court of law. To make the end of my masked play more real, I have decided to go on waiting, while you look through the deposition. For the time being, just remembering
him
keeps me from boredom.

Well then, let’s trace back the skein of my hours. Perhaps it was some time during the morning, about three days ago from
your
“now.” That night a sticky, rain-laden wind kept badgering the window in its frame. Though it had been too warm during the day, we missed the heat when evening came. According to the papers it was supposed to turn cold again, but the days had obviously grown longer. Soon, when the rains let up, it would be summer. I was worried as I thought about it. In my present state I was like wax, limp from the heat. Just thinking of the ceaselessly shining sun made my skin break out in blisters.

Then I thought I would like to settle the matter somehow before summer came. According to the long-term forecast, a continental high-pressure system would begin to spread, and apparently for the next three or four days there would be summery weather. In short, it would be perfect if, within three days, I could finish my preparations for meeting you and run the story right on after this letter. But three days could scarcely be considered enough. For, as you can see, the statement is a record stretching over a whole year and filling three notebooks the size of folios. It will be a big job to finish up a notebook a day to my satisfaction—rewriting, deleting, and revising. I had braced myself for the task and come directly
back today two or three hours earlier than usual, bringing a midnight snack of meat dumplings liberally spiced with garlic.

But vexingly enough, the result was simply that I was again made aware of the utter insufficiency of time. Actually, when I skimmed through the notebooks, I was dissatisfied with the tone, which smacked too much of apology. It was extraordinary for me to be so irked by this soaking night, although it would make anyone gloomy. I did not intend to deny that the final act was rather wretched, but I continued confident that at least I was always alert in my own way. Without that confidence, how could I possibly go on tirelessly writing such notebooks, which might constitute either support for my alibi or proof of my guilt? I didn’t mean I would not admit defeat. But I still firmly believe that the maze in which I was caught is the ultimate, the logical tribulation. Yet, contrary to expectations, the notebooks continued to bawl piteously, like some penned-up tomcat. I wondered if I should work them over until I was satisfied with their smoothness, forgetting the three-day limit.

No. That is enough. I can’t stand the feeling of having a piece of half-chewed gristle stick in my throat at the very moment I’m resigned to confess everything. The sections that seem to shriek are all trivial, so I shall be satisfied if I can just get you to read them. Your main irritations are electric drills, the sound of scraping on plate glass, and cockroaches; but you can hardly say that these are the essentials of life. You associate electric drills with the dentist, I imagine; but the other two are strange items which I cannot describe other than as psychological hives. I have never yet heard of hives being fatal.

Well, let’s drop it for now and wind things up. It serves no purpose to pile justifications on justifications. It is more important that you should go on reading the letter—my time
quite overlaps with your present—that you should keep on reading the notebooks … without giving up … to the last page, when I will catch up with your time.

(Now you’re relaxed, aren’t you? Yes, yes. The tea’s in the squat green can. The water’s already boiled and now in the thermos jug, so go ahead and use it.)

BOOK: The Face of Another
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