A guide to Kenzaburo Oe’s novels, interviews


Kenzaburo Oe, one of Japan’s most prominent post-war writers, died on March 3. He won the Nobel Prize in 1994 for what the committee called his creation of worlds “where life and myth condense to form a bewildering picture of humanity’s predicament today.”

Oe (pronounced OH-eh) called his process of continual revision and elaboration: “I’m trying to fight the same opponent all over again.” His work tirelessly revolved around a few essential ideas, namely the life of his son Hikari and the bombing of Hiroshima. He called his style “peripheral”, as he turned away from conventional values ​​of equanimity and artful vagueness; instead, his prose was ornate, maximalist, and straightforward in its examination of ugliness and suffering.

Here is a brief guide to Oe and his writing.

The Keystone : “A personal affair

Oe is best known for this 1964 semi-autobiographical novel, a dark comedy about a young, inexperienced college student who decides to leave his wife after their baby is born with a herniated brain. “A Personal Matter” is the first of what would become several novels about the life of Oe’s son, Hikari, who appears under his own name or under other names (Eeyore, Mori, Kikuhiko) throughout his father’s fiction. The experience of parenting a child with a severe mental disability is what Oe has called one of the central and structuring pillars of his work.

The non-fiction classic: “Notes from Hiroshima

Although Oe is primarily known as a novelist, “Hiroshima Notes,” a collection of essays from 1965, is one of his best-selling works. Drawing on interviews with survivors and the doctors and nurses who treated them, the book also offers a stark portrait of the efforts of the American and Japanese governments to suppress the darker aspects of the aftermath of the attack.

One that Oe himself might have recommended:The silent cry

1967’s “Silent Cry” tells the story of two brothers who return to their family’s village in an attempt to sell their childhood home, only to find themselves entangled in its dark past and reenacting the disturbing deeds of their ancestors. . “It’s a work from my youth and the flaws are apparent,” Oe told an interviewer. “But I think it’s the most successful, flaws and all.”

For something different:Awake, O young men of the new age!

The novel “Rouse Up” traces a father’s revisitation of an ancient and impossible promise: to demystify all the complexities of the life of his son Bourriquet, who is about to turn 20. Then the narrator, K, finds a lifeline in the work of romantic mystic William Blake, using the poems to bridge the gap between them.

Kenzaburo Oe, lyric novelist and Nobel laureate, dies at 88

To learn more about the life of Oe…

Read his interview in “La Revue de Paris”.

“I don’t think I’m that interesting to listen to,” Oe told Sarah Fay in 2007. “I haven’t seen a lot of great things. I haven’t been to a new world. I haven’t I haven’t had a lot of weird experiences. I’ve been through a lot of little things. I write about those little experiences, review them, and relive them through review. Still, their conversation is enticing reading, because Oe is d disarmingly frank on topics ranging from his prose (“very difficult, very twisted, complicated”) to his daily habits (how he copes with insomnia: four whiskeys and two to four cans of beer — which, admits -he, tends to decrease his ability to read).

Read it The profile of the New Yorker d’Oe from 1995.

The profile was occasioned by Oe winning the Nobel Prize and telling anyone who would listen that he planned to quit writing fiction after his son’s music came out, David Remnick reported at the time. “because the mission he set himself thirty-one years ago – to somehow speak on behalf of his severely brain-damaged son, Hikari – is no longer necessary. Oe published another novel, Somersault, four years later. The profile offers an unusually intimate view of Oe’s life, including his strained relationship with novelist Yukio Mishima, and hints at the political activities he would later undertake.

Listen to her Nobel Conference.

Oe riffs on the speech given by Japan’s first Nobel laureate in literature, Yasunari Kawabata in 1968, to offer his own meditation on what it means to be a Japanese writer – “born and raised in a peripheral, marginal, decentered region of the peripheral, marginal, decentralized country”.

And once you’re done reading, here’s more:

Listen to the music of Hikari Oe.

Drawings of Hikari’s musical compositions appeared in some of Oe’s books, and after the head of Nippon Columbia took an interest in them, Hikari became a popular classical composer, primarily for piano, flute, and violin. The music “is entirely accessible”, wrote one reviewer in 1995, “and while the earlier pieces seduce mainly by their simplicity and charm, some of the later, darker ones are immensely moving, with haunting melodies and an elegance and striking development economics. .”

Watch Juzo Itami movies.

Itami, Oe’s brother-in-law, inspired his novel “The Changeling” (2000). The film that made Itami internationally famous was his 1985 “noodle western,” “Tampopo,” in which a ragtag group tries to save a single mother’s failing ramen restaurant. But if you’re looking to explore the connection between Itami and Oe, you’ll want to research ‘A Quiet Life’, about a young woman left to care for her younger brother after his mother and writer father leave for Australia. .

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