Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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

Records detail shooting victim’s court history

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A1, 40 Comments | Gallery

 
Vallejo youth wins county spelling bee

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
25th annual Rush Ranch Open House on April calendar

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A2

Saturday Club schedules Shower of Flowers event

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
 
Symphony opportunity, scholarships available

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A4

 
Searchers find 84-year-old missing nearly a day

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Free Healthier Living workshops begin this week

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

Music teachers receive program grants

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A5

 
Group plans Haiti missions fundraisers

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

 
Travel presentation ready to roll in Vacaville

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6

Vallejo woman hit, killed by vehicle

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A6

 
Workshops offer information on child support process

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A6

 
Helen Mirren film set for debut

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B9 | Gallery

 
Frazier to deliver keynote at Solano EDC event

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: B10

WIB to host regional career fair

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: B10 | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: March 29, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A14

Fairfield police log: March 28, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A14, 2 Comments

 
Suisun City police log: March 29, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A14

Suisun City police log: March 28, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A14

 
Man struck by car, injured

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A14, 2 Comments

.

US / World

 
Family: Man dead at Hollywood Hills home is Andrew Getty

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Tuskegee Airman Leslie A. Williams dies in California at 95

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
3D print technology provides ‘robohand’ to 7-year-old girl

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Endangered bighorn sheep moved to Yosemite, Sequoia parks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

Defense rests in 1st phase of Boston Marathon bombing trial

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Woman charged with stabbing boyfriend after salsa argument

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Police: Prisoner who stole gun, fled hospital found in DC

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Dress-wearing man killed by NSA police had lengthy record

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Exercising critically ill patients may help speed recovery

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Transportation strike shuts down Argentina

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
Nigerian troops prevent Boko Haram attacks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

Iran nuke talks extend past deadline

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

 
Relief program paid millions for ‘flawed’ work

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Buhari defeats Goodluck Jonathan in Nigerian election

By The Associated Press | From Page: A15

 
.

Living

Today in history: April 1, 2015

By Maureen Fissolo | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 1, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: April 1, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

 
Should we sent wedding invitations to relatives we know can’t come?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

Dressing up spring asparagus with an easy brown butter sauce

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
 
.

Entertainment

‘General Hospital’ leads Daytime Emmy nominations

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Olympic champ Gabby Douglas’ family to get reality show

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B9

 
.

Sports

Randle sets record, leads Stanford past ODU in NIT semis

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Vanden’s Orme strikes out 16, tosses no-hitter

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

Prep boys golf preview: All 4 city teams are young

By Brian Arnold | From Page: B1

 
Short-handed Miami rallies to beat Temple 60-57 in NIT semis

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Patriots owner: Aaron Hernandez told me he was innocent

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Raiders release DT Antonio Smith

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Tennessee hires former Texas coach Rick Barnes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Thunder star Kevin Durant has bone graft surgery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey showing off versatility

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NASCAR driver Kyle Larson released from hospital

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Barry Zito’s scoreless streak ends; A’s beat Angels 13-10

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Cubs will track noise so Wrigley rehab doesn’t disturb fans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Lincecum pitches into 6th in Giants’ win over Rockies

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

AP’s Run to the Roses: Mubtaahij No. 8; Dortmund still No. 1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Michigan State title would be worth $1 million to Vegas man

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

AP study projects average MLB salary tops $4M

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
University of North Dakota begins campaign to find nickname

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Judge rules Ernie Banks will is valid

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Kentucky’s platoon system gives way to traditional rotation

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Chris Mullin returns home to coach St. John’s

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Soccer player at center of search killed crossing LA freeway

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Frozen Four will be old home week for BU coach David Quinn

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Rio Olympic tickets go on sale despite football uncertainty

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Tiger Woods plays practice round at Augusta

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
US gives up another late goal in 1-1 tie at Switzerland

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NASCAR finds Ryan Newman’s race team for manipulated tires

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
.

Business

Online craft retailer Etsy preps for IPO

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
Many trucks being driven beyond designed top speed

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

Buffet expected to buy dealerships

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
San Bruno supports higher fine

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

Google to release their cheapest laptop yet

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10, 2 Comments

 
Several charged in Medicaid shoe fraud

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10, 4 Comments

Fast food organizers expand their campaign

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10, 2 Comments

 
.

Obituaries

Carlos Penados

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Gordon Davis

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7