Wednesday, October 1, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

‘Silence Once Begun,’ a slippery tale built on false confessions

By
From page C2 | February 02, 2014 |

By Carolyn Kellogg

Los Angeles Times

“Silence Once Begun” by Jesse Ball; Pantheon ($23.95)

———

Jesse Ball’s “Silence Once Begun” resists the standard narrative tropes of contemporary novels. It pushes against them with antique, gentlemanly language, a conflicting set of stories that clearly reference “Rashomon,” and a structure like a funnel that starts at the wide open end. Because the story’s details unfold slowly, an interested reader ought to ignore the dust jacket: It gives too much away. Ball, a poet, uses the structure of his novels (“Samedi the Deafness,” “The Way Through Doors”) as one way to challenge expectations.

“Silence Once Begun” begins with the narrator (Jesse Ball) telling us that his relationship has ended because of his wife inexplicably falling silent. His need for an explanation leads him to Japan and the story of Oda Sotatsu.

Years before, Sotatsu was arrested for a crime he did not commit; he signed a confession, then refused to speak up to defend himself. “He carried a sort of tent of silence with him, and out of it he refused to come,” Ball writes.

Sotatsu’s family and friends sit down to tell Ball their stories, which follow as transcribed interviews and letters. With only the tenuous connection of silence, their cooperation with Ball’s project is improbable, but realism is not his style. An assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the actual Ball teaches classes in lucid dreaming and lying — at least, that’s what his bio says. His bios have lied before.

So the “Jesse Ball” who appears in the book’s text as the interviewer and narrator is only to be partly believed. And the novel, while presented in a straightforward documentary format, is fiction, and slippery fiction at that.

Sotatsu was a quiet 29-year-old working at a thread factory when he was tricked into signing a confession by two new friends, a man, Sato Kakuzo, and a woman, Jito Joo. We don’t immediately know what the crime is, only that it is something awful.

His devastated family reacted in a variety of ways. His brother was loyal, his sister critical, and his mother followed his father, whose reactions were cruel and unpredictable.

Meanwhile, portions of police interrogations are included; the missing parts imply Sotatsu is being abused and mistreated. From the officers’ questions we learn more about what has happened: A dozen senior citizens have mysteriously disappeared, with a similar card left behind in each case to prove their connection. The police want to know what Sotatsu has done to them, where the bodies are. He doesn’t respond.

Clearly suffering, Sotatsu began a hunger strike. Or maybe, we are told in another account, he was being starved by his guards. One prison guard stole some of Sotatsu’s belongings from his cell, including a photograph of the woman, Jito Joo.

When Joo speaks to Ball, she recalls the events of that time with the unfathomable logic of a dream. The black and white snapshot of her appears in the text. There are others photos as well; some have no apparent explanation, while others eventually reveal themselves. Ball has embedded a poetic visual narrative of empty spaces and rooms within the larger story.

As in Kafka’s “The Trial,” the justice of “Silence Once Begun” is both tragic and absurd. But while Kafka’s characters are trapped, Sotatsu actually has the power to change his fate — he could free himself if he told the courts of the false confession and the people who made him sign it. That he does not makes him complicit in the cruelties enacted upon him.

The book is dedicated to the Japanese writers Kobo Abe and Shusaku Endo, whose 1969 novel “Silence” is a clear antecedent. Ball’s story addresses the power of silence — it can destroy a relationship — and also its failures, for it does not serve Sotatsu well. Meanwhile, Sotatsu’s choices raise questions about the nature of suffering; as the narrative unspools, he seems by turns an existential hero, a Christlike figure, a fool.

Ball has built in a few genuinely surprising twists that exist solely because of how the story is structured. That’s an accomplishment; “Silence Once Begun” is a fascinating project in which almost everything is stripped away but the contradictory stories people tell.

Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Middle school students put school candidates on the hot seat

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Pact with union wins Vacaville council OK

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1

 
Suisun City candidates get lively in 2nd council forum

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
 
Solano focuses on rail safety

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

Juveniles hit by vehicle have minor injuries

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

 
Booz and Brewz benefit for the Blue Star Moms

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Police search for missing man

By Glen Faison | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Caltrans cancels nighttime Highway 37 closures

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

Salvation Army gears up for annual Red Kettle campaign

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Blessing of the animals slated Sunday

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

DUI-drivers license checkpoint nets arrests

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5

 
Travis airman killed in motorcycle accident

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A5

 
Theaters primed for bevy of new movies

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

Suisun City police log: Sept. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Fairfield police log: Sept. 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A9, 2 Comments

Suisun City police log: Sept. 28, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A9

 
Suisun City police log: Sept. 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A9

Fairfield police log: Sept. 28, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A9, 2 Comments

 
Fairfield police log: Sept. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

$26,227 payment to maintenance man challenged

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A10

 
FBI announces reward for Vacaville bank robber

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A10

American Legion seeks Korean War veterans for award

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

 
Third Annual Ride to Defeat Diabetes is Sunday

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

4-H Achievement Night honors county members

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A10

 
Measure A committee plans weekend precinct walk

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A10

.

US / World

Forest areas reopen after huge fire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Hong Kong leader refuses to meet with protesters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Secret Service chief on hot seat for WH breach

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Afghan pact signed amid questions on Iraq pullout

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Police on manhunt find pipe bombs in woods

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Oklahoma man charged with murder in beheading

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Luck, instinct determined fates of volcano hikers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Government confirms first case of Ebola in US

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Mayor of suburban Los Angeles city killed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Crash, suspicious device lead to 101 closure in LA

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Gov. Brown governor vetoes ethics bills

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
California becomes first state to ban plastic bags

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

Bay Area looks to expand overnight transit options

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Gov. Jerry Brown signs California gun restriction

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

Stop hounding Moy

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Oct. 1, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
.

Entertainment

Morgan: ‘Can’t believe’ Walmart blaming him

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
.

Sports

Raiders make Tony Sparano interim coach after firing Allen

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Royals beat A’s 9-8 in 12 in AL wild-card thriller

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Local report: Rodriguez volleyball team downs Armijo

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

Pirates’ Volquez looks to continue revival against Giants

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
FCC will consider petition to ban ‘Redskins’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Training camp essential for NBA’s new head coaches like Warriors’ Kerr

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

No. 14 Stanford trying to jolt stagnant offense

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
NC State coach apologizes for fake injury remarks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NFL says Abdullah should not have been penalized

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
NFL has laundry list of verboten celebrations

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Government: NFL TV ‘blackout’ rule unsportsmanlike

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Olympian Michael Phelps apologizes for DUI arrest

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Gravely injured Giants fan sues Dodgers again

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Ex 49ers RB James agrees to terms with Dolphins

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

49ers’ Wilhoite filling the injury void at linebacker

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
.

Business

EU says Apple gets illegal tax benefits in Ireland

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Could a merger follow the PayPal-eBay split?

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

.

Obituaries

John ‘Bo’ M. Miller

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
David Earl Butenhoff-Forristall

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Marte Abad Lubag

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Clara May Clift Triplett

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

.

Comics

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5