Kenzaburo Oe, the committed writer

Kenzaburo Oe

You don´t know much about Japanese literature if Kenzaburo Oe is not part of your favourite authors list.

Kenzaburo Oe is definitely one of the most famous Japanese writers, though his fame has not transcended borders so much as his colleague Haruki Murakami during the last years. Kenzaburo Oe, however, can boast of being one of the only two Japanese writers awarded with a Nobel Prize in Literature (1994) for creating “an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today”, besides the fact that one of the most important literary awards in Japan bears his name.

The career of this writer is marked by his personal life: World War II, the stories of Japanese tradition in his village told by his grandmother, two books of his childhood that will accompany him throughout his life (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Strange Adventures of Nils Holgersson) and finally his son Hikari’s birth with a major malformation, hydrocephalus, that prevents him from leading a common life. These are the key factors that guide the creative process in his work, influenced, in a way, by the French authors he studied at the University.

To cut a long story short, permit me separate the Oe’s work in two parts, one part in which his writings are about rural legends from his childhood and the other, marked by his diseased son’s birth, when he began writing from the pain and the great desire of self-improvement dealing with contemporary society themes. His style, in both phases, is direct and concise but at the same time full of typical reflections of the humanist he actually is.

“A healing family”, based on Oe´s life with his son Hikari (which means light). As a child, Hikari never cried and never dreamt, yet he came to compose music that expressed a core of sorrow. This is the story of Hikari, who has emerged as a successful composer, despite autism, epilepsy and near blindness. The story of Oe´s commitment.

About the myths of the village and its traditions, he wrote “Prize Stock”, short story about the adventures of a child who lives in a boring village where nothing ever happens until one day an enemy plane crashed near the village. Also in this phase: “Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids”, “The Silent Cry”, the game of contemporaneity or letters for nostalgic years.

On the other side of his prose, in which the disability of his son sets the narrative, I would highlight his novel “A personal matter” where depicts, with shocking realism, the story of a father who had his plans frustrated by the birth of his child with a major mental illness that will cause him early death or, at best, a poor quality life doomed to suffering. The autobiographical overtones that fill all Kenzaburo Oe work are undoubtedly manifested in this novel. Also connected with the drama of his son, Kenzaburo Oe wrote: “Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness”, “The Flood invades my spirit” or “Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!”.

Finally, we would like you to watch these “Conversations with History”, conducted by UC Berkeley´s Harry Kreisler