Oe, Kenzaburo

Oe, Kenzaburo

(kĕn'zäbo͝or`ō ō`ā), 1935–, Japanese writer, b. Ose, on the island of Shikoku. At 18, he left his remote village and traveled to the capital, where he studied at Tokyo Univ. and began writing. In 1958 he won the Akutagawa Prize for a short story and published his first novel, Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (tr. 1995).

Five years later the birth of his severely brain-damaged son marked a turning point in his life and work. His best known novel, A Personal Matter (1964, tr. 1968), deals with a father's slow acceptance of his similarly handicapped infant son. Several of his other works concern this theme. In life, he and his wife have devoted much of their lives to their son's care.

Oe's other works include more than 20 novels, among them The Silent Cry (1967, tr. 1974), The Pinch Runner Memorandum (1976, tr. 1993), and A Quiet Life (1990, tr. 1996), several short-story collections, essays, and Hiroshima Notes (1965, tr. 1995), which chronicles the courage of the victims of the nuclear attack. His often angry and politically charged tales, his recurrent themes of abnormality, sexuality, and marginality, and his gritty, realistic style set him apart from the mainstream Japanese literary tradition. In 1994 Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Somersault (1999, tr. 2003), his first novel after winning the prize, concerns a terrorist religious cult and its charismatic leader. His own life informs The Changeling (2000, tr. 2010), which revolves around the suicide of the main character's filmmaker brother-in-law, and Death by Water (2009, tr. 2015), a search for the meaning of a father's mysterious red trunk and death by drowning and the sources of inspiration.

His firstborn son, Hikari Oe, 1963–, although initially uncommunicative and still only minimally functional, developed impressive musical abilities and has become an accomplished composer.