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About Kenzaburo Oe
Kenzaburō Ōe (大江 健三郎 Ōe Kenzaburō?, born 31 January 1935) is a Japanese writer and a major figure in contemporary Japanese literature. His novels, short stories and essays, strongly influenced by French and American literature and literary theory, deal with political, social and philosophical issues, including nuclear weapons, nuclear power, social non-conformism, and existentialism. Ōe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 for creating "an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today".
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In Seventeen, the story of a lonely seventeen year old who turns to a right-wing group for self-esteem, and J, the story of a spoiled, young, drifter son of a Japanese executive, Ōe shows us a world where the values that had regulated life had been blown to smithereens along with Hiroshima and Nagasaki: what confronts his heroes now is a gaping emptiness.
Seventeen’s lost young man is in the throes of becoming a right wing activist and assassin. He feels his identity for the first time in the enervating rush of murderous violence. The story has enormous topicality and vibrancy for today. In J, our protagonist’s erotic excitement comes as a “chikan” who rubs himself against women on crowded trains. He refuses to otherwise participate in the drab, everyday world, which he feels would only be self-deceptive. He can only feel complete while attaining “the absolute ecstasy of total action.” Of course this action of sexual assault can bring arrest, disgrace, and imprisonment. As always, Ōe treats his subjects not with pity or disdain, but with sympathy.
Kenzaburō Ōe was born in 1935 on a remote part of Japan’s Shikoku island. He is credited in part with the modernization and internationalization of Japanese intellectual tradition in the latter half of the twentieth century. Storytelling played a prominent role in Ōe’s childhood. In particular, his grandmother provided an early, defiant framework for the novellas for which he gained recognition early in his career, including Seventeen and The Death of a Political Youth. Her stories were an antidote to the strong imperial influence of his elementary education—crucially, during the period of Japan’s descent into the Second World War. Propelled by his belief in democracy’s viability and necessity following the war, he left for Tokyo to study Rabelais and quickly became enmeshed in the cultural life of the city. He began publishing while still a student and gained a name as a stylist even more accomplished than Yukio Mishima, ten years his senior. In 1994, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ōe’s distinguishing quality in Tokyo’s literary landscape is his internationalism: his preoccupation with French and American theory; his travels to meet luminaries including Sartre and Mao Zedong. Preoccupation with oppositions is manifest in his work as well—commitment and disavowal, action and inaction, imperial and democratic, political and personal (particularly sexual) life, to name a few—but equally recurrent is his explicit faith in the healing power of the practice of art, and his conviction in writing as a means to survive personal hardship. Politically engaged, he has consistently spoken out over the years on behalf of pacifism and against nuclear power.
Since his youth, renowned novelist Kogito Choko planned to fictionalize his father’s fatal drowning in order to fully process the loss. Stricken with guilt and regret over his failure to rescue his father, Choko has long been driven to discover why his father was boating on the river in a torrential storm. Though he remembers overhearing his father and a group of soldiers discussing an insurgent scheme to stage a suicide attack on Emperor Mikado, Choko cannot separate his memories from imagination and his family is hesitant to reveal the entire story. When the contents of the trunk turn out to offer little clarity, Choko abandons the novel in creative despair. Floundering as an artist, he’s haunted by fear that he may never write his tour de force. But when he collaborates with an avant-garde theater troupe dramatizing his early novels, Kogito is revitalized by revisiting his formative work and he finds the will to continue investigating his father’s demise.
Diving into the turbulent depths of legacy and mortality, Death by Water is an exquisite examination of resurfacing national and personal trauma, and the ways that storytelling can mend political, social, and familial rifts.
In Oe's masterpiece of the human condition and family psychology, estranged brothers Mitsusaburo and Takashi have long since left their family home in a remote forested valley on Shikoku, in the south of Japan: Mitsusaburo for work in Tokyo; his younger brother Takashi for the United States, to atone for his part in anti-American student protests. Takashi's return to Japan coincides with a local Korean supermarket magnate's offer to buy the brothers' ancestral storehouse, pitting the brothers against one another and dredging up family histories best forgotten.
The Silent Cry is the most important Japanese novel of the post-war period and a strange, unsettling tale of how the call of blood and history echoes down the generations.
An uncanny blend of the real with the imagined, of memoir with fiction, A Quiet Life is narrated by Ma-chan, a twenty-year-old woman. Her father is a famous and fascinating novelist; her older brother, though severely brain-damaged, possesses an almost magical gift for musical composition; and her mother’s life is devoted to the care of them both.
Ma-chan and her younger brother find themselves emotionally on the outside of this oddly constructed nuclear family. But when her father accepts a visiting professorship from an American university, Ma-chan finds herself suddenly the head of the household and at the center of family relationships that “are movingly illuminated” (The New York Times) through Oe’s unique and unpredictable genius.
Revelación literaria en los años cincuenta, Kenzaburo Oé quedó consagrado como el mejor novelista japonés de la generación posterior a Yukio Mishima desde los años sesenta y se ha afirmado que recuerda a Dante, William Blake y Malcom Lowry. "Una cuestión personal", una de sus mejores y más crueles novelas, animada de una extraña violencia interior, cuenta la terrible odisea de Bird, un joven profesor de inglés abrumado por una cenagosa existencia cotidiana en el Japón contemporáneo. Su anhelo secreto es redimirse a través de un mítico viaje por África, donde, según cree, su vida renacerá plena de sentido. Pero tales proyectos sufren un vuelco de ciento ochenta grados: su esposa da a luz un monstruoso bebé, condenado a una muerte inminente o, en el mejor de los casos, a una vida de vegetal. Este hecho convulsiona el lánguido e indolente existir de Bird y, durante tres días y tres noches, se arrastra por un implacable recorrido hacia lo más profundo de su abismo interior. Descenso a los infiernos en el que le acompañará Himiko, una vieja compañera de estudios. Bird buscará refugio en el alcohol, en los brazos de Himiko y, principalmente, en su propia vergüenza y humillación: ¿debe aceptar la fatalidad, cargar para siempre con un hijo anormal y renunciar a sus planes de una vida mejor o, por el contrario, debe desembarazarse del bebé provocando un desenlace fatal?
Premio Akutagawa 1958
Premio letterario Shinchosha 1964
Premio Tanizaki 1967
Premio Noma 1973
Premio Yomiuri 1982
Premio Jiro Osaragi (Asahi Shimbun) 1983
Legion d'onore 2002
Tori-bird è chiamato così perché sembra sempre in fuga da tutto, da tutti e da ogni responsabilità, fino a quando il destino lo pone di fronte a un caso drammatico: un figlio nato con una grave malformazione cerebrale. Tori-bird, inizialmente incapace di reagire, si augura che il bambino muoia al più presto, ma via via comprende che questo altro non sarebbe che l’ennesimo modo per sfuggire alla realtà e si convince che di fatto ciò che lo trattiene sull’orlo del baratro è proprio il pensiero della lotta solitaria del suo bambino sfortunato. Dal contenuto autobiografico, il romanzo è anche una metafora del Giappone del dopoguerra e un’analisi della condizione umana nel secolo di Hiroshima.
"Hoshino's latest-in-translation (rendered by De Wolf) begins as black comedy and devolves into an antisolipsistic treatise on the impossibility of individual identity."
"Part existential fable, part 'Night of the Living Dead,' Mr. Hoshino's inventive novel, accessibly translated by Charles De Wolf, paints a nightmare vision of Japan's rootless millennials, who work grinding dead-end jobs that leave them little time for family or individual passions...At first Hitoshi and his fellow MEs are happy to band together against an uncaring world. But the camaraderie doesn't last, since every time one reveals a character flaw the others take it as an indictment of themselves. As the MEs' failures and weaknesses become intolerably magnified onto the 'living but useless rabble' they're gripped by a suicidal impulse that unleashes a crazed murder spree. The frenetic, knife-wielding finale reaches its climax in--a McDonald's, of course. None of them can think of any place else to eat."
--Wall Street Journal, included in Best New Fiction column
"A Kafkaesque journey of a lonely narrator being absorbed by an impersonal system."
--Los Angeles Review of Books
"The imaginative story of a rather unimaginative camera salesman, ME features Hitoshi Nagano; his troubles begin with his impulsive theft of a cell phone from another customer at a McDonalds. They end with a post-apocalyptic future for everyone in Japan."
--New York Journal of Books
"[Some passages] surpass even Kobo Abe. . .The author has leaped to a higher level."
--Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel Prize-winning author of The Silent Cry, from the afterword
With an afterword by Kenzaburō Ōe. Translated from Japanese by Charles De Wolf.
This novel centers on the "It's me" telephone scam--often targeting the elderly--that has escalated in Japan in recent years. Typically, the caller identifies himself only by saying, "Hey, it's me," and goes on to claim in great distress that he's been in an accident or lost some money with which he was entrusted at work, etc., and needs funds wired to his account right away.
ME's narrator is a nondescript young Tokyoite named Hitoshi Nagano who, on a whim, takes home a cell phone that a young man named Daiki Hiyama accidentally put on Hitoshi's tray at McDonald's. Hitoshi uses the phone to call Daiki's mother, pretending he is Daiki, and convinces her to wire him 900,000 yen.
Three days later, Hitoshi returns home from work to discover Daiki's mother there in his apartment, and she seems to truly believe Hitoshi is her son. Even more bizarre, Hitoshi discovers his own parents now treat him as a stranger; they, too, have a "me" living with them as Hitoshi. At a loss for what else to do, Hitoshi begins living as Daiki, and no one seems to bat an eye.
In a brilliant probing of identity, and employing a highly original style that subverts standard narrative forms, Tomoyuki Hoshino elevates what might have been a commonplace crime story to an occasion for philosophical reflection.