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Other Voices: The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu by Augusto Higa Oshiro

You’ve no doubt heard the quote, sometimes attributed to Thomas Szasz, about insanity being a sane response to an insane world. In The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu (Archipelago Books, 2023), author Augusto Higa Oshiro takes this claim further. In an insane world, madness is more than a sane response to unbearable conditions. Madness is enlightenment.

Katzuo Nakamatsu is a widower living in Lima, Peru. While out walking one day, he is accosted by a premonition of his own death. Shortly thereafter he abruptly loses his job at the local university. An all-pervading fatalism sets in as he wanders the streets of Lima, reflecting on the trials of his immigrant forebears. Among them is his father’s friend Etsuko Untén, the spiritual double of Peruvian poet Martin Adán. Nakamatsu adopts Untén’s eccentric attire and righteous will as he closes in on his own inevitable end.

Throughout Enlightenment, Nakamatsu hears unusual sounds emerging from dreamlike depths: the clicking and chattering of jungle birds, the voices of Japanese laborers exploited and attacked. Oshiro sends his readers tumbling over commas as Nakamatsu trips down the streets of Lima, pursued by these ghosts.

They were unspeakable, indistinct shadows, strange beings that hounded him from death’s borders, there they were, after him, diabolical, bamboozling him with their purring, their laughter, sardonic when it wasn’t bellowing and antagonizing, flattening him with their suffocating murmurs, with their profanities, snuffling and hawking up phlegm.

In many teachings the transcendence of self is a struggle undertaken individually, exclusively through the will of the very self attempting to escape. In Oshiro’s book, it descends upon his subject suddenly and inexplicably, and is only reached after generations of collective suffering.

Never forget, those are your origins, seeds of the pain, those roving, unfaltering men, no day, no night, no cries, no fatigue, not a single complaint, only endless punishment, always a stony jut to the lips, like nothing mattered.

Translator Jennifer Shyue renders Oshiro into an impressively distinctive English. One that is, as she puts it, breathless. Gasping even, during swells of Nakamatsu’s torture, with clauses expanding and contracting like the panicked panting of drowning lungs. When in gentler reverie, the commas give rise to a soft swaying, like a bench swing lightly propelled, as by bare toes pushing off park grass. After Enlightenment, the duo’s prose rhythms continue to flicker and rock in the reader’s ear. Not at all an unpleasant voice to have trapped inside your head.






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