Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel prize-winning Japanese writer, dies at 88

Kenzaburo Oe, a giant of Japanese writing and winner of the Nobel prize in literature, has died aged 88, The Guardian reports.

Oe’s death, on 3 March, was due to old age, his publisher Kodansha said.

Spanning fiction and essays, the reports states, Oe’s work tackled a wide range of subjects from militarism and nuclear disarmament to innocence and trauma, and he became an outspoken champion for the voiceless in the face of what he regarded as his country’s failures. Regarded by some in Japan as distinctly western, Oe’s style was often likened to William Faulkner; in his own words, his writing would “start from my personal matters and then link it up with society, the state and the world”.

Many of his stories and essays touched on formative events in his life, including the impact of war on Japanese society in novels such as The Silent Cry – which the Nobel committee deemed his masterpiece – and the birth of his son Hikari, which led him to explore his own experience as the father of a disabled child in the novels A Personal Matter and A Quiet Life.

Born in 1935 in Ose, a remote village in the forests of Shikoku, Oe was the fifth of seven children, growing up on the folk tales of his grandmother and mother. When Oe’s father was killed in the second world war in 1944, his mother began to educate him with books including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Strange Adventures of Nils Holgersson, the impact of which, he would say in his 1994 Nobel acceptance speech, he would “carry to the grave”.

In 1960 Oe married his wife, Yukari. Three years later their first child, Hikari, was born with a herniated brain and doctors urged the parents to let him die. Oe admitted to once wishing for his son’s death – a “disgraceful” thought, he later wrote, that “no powerful detergent has allowed me to wash out of my life”. But encounters with survivors of Hiroshima a month later were transformative, and led to his essay Hiroshima Notes. “I was trained as a writer and as a human being by the birth of my son,” he told the Guardian in 2005. Hikari went on to become a musical prodigy and an award-winning composer, with Oe saying his music sold “better than any of my novels, and I’m proud of that”.


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