Kenzaburo Oe biography, plus links to book reviews and book excerpts from books by Kenzaburo Oe.

Author Biography  |  Books by this Author  |  Readalikes

Kenzaburo Oe

Kenzaburo Oe

Kenzaburo Oe Biography

Kenzaburo Oe was born in 1935, in a village hemmed in by the forests of Shikoku, one of the four main islands of Japan.

The Second World War broke out when Oe was six. Militaristic education extended to every nook and cranny of the country. Young Oe, therefore, experienced the nation's myth and history as well as those of the village tradition, and these dual experiences were often in conflict. After his father's death during the war, his mother took over his father's role as educator.

Japan's defeat in the war in 1945 brought enormous change, even to the remote forest village. In schools, children were taught democratic principles, replacing those of the absolutist Emperor system, and this education was all the more thorough, for the nation was then under the administration of American and other forces. Young Oe took democracy straight to his heart. So strong was his desire for democracy that he decided to leave for Tokyo; leave the village of his forefathers, the life they had lived and preserved, out of sheer belief that the city offered him an opportunity to knock on the door of democracy, the door that would lead him to a future of freedom on paths that stretched out to the world. Had it not been for the drastic change the nation underwent at this time, Oe, whose love of trees is one of his innate qualities, would have remained in his village as his forefathers had done, and tended to the forest as one of its guardians.

At the age of eighteen, Oe made his first long train trip to Tokyo, and in the following year enrolled in the Department of French Literature at Tokyo University where he received instruction under the tutelage of Professor Kazuo Watanabe, a specialist on Francois Rabelais. Rabelais' image system of grotesque realism, to use Mikhail Bakhtin's terminology, provided him with a methodology to positively and thoroughly reassess the myths and history of his native village in the valley.

Watanabe's thoughts on humanism, which he arrived at from his study of the French Renaissance, helped shape Oe's fundamental view of society and the human condition. An avid reader of contemporary French and American literature, Oe viewed the social condition of the metropolis in light of the works he read. Yet, he also endeavored to reorganize, under the light of Rabelais and humanism, his thoughts on what the women of the village had handed down to him, those stories that constituted his background. In this sense, he was again living another duality.

Oe started writing in 1957, while still a French literature student at the university. His works from 1957 through 1958 - from the short story, The Catch, which won him the Akutagawa Award, to his first novel, Bud-Nipping, Lamb Shooting* (1958), depicts the tragedy of war tearing asunder the idyllic life of a rural youth. In Lavish are the Dead (1957), a short story, and in The Youth Who Came Late* (1961), a novel, Oe portrayed student life in Tokyo, a city where the dark shadows of the U.S. occupation still remained. Apparent in these works are strong influences of Jean-Paul Sartre and other modern French writers.

Crisis struck Oe's life and literature with the birth of his first son, Hikari. Hikari was born with a cranial deformity resulting in his becoming a mentally- handicapped person. Traumatic as the experience was for Oe, the crisis granted him a new lease on both his life and his literature. Overcoming the agony and determined to coexist with the child, Oe wrote A Personal Matter (1964), his penning of his pain in accepting the brain-damaged child into his life, and of how he arrived at his resolve to live with him. Through the catalytic medium of humanism, he conjoined his own fate of having to accept a handicapped child into the family with that of the stance one ought to take in contemporary society, and wrote Hiroshima Notes (1965), a long essay which describes the realities and thoughts of the A-bomb victims.

Following this, Oe deepened his interest in Okinawa, the southernmost group of islands in Japan. Before the Meiji Restoration, Okinawa was an independent country with its own culture. During World War II, the islands became the site of the only battle Japan fought on its own soil. After the war, the people of Okinawa were left to suffer a long U.S. military occupation. Oe's interest in Okinawa was oriented, politically, toward the lives of the Okinawans living on what became a U.S. military base, and, culturally, to what Okinawa meant to him in terms of its traditions. The latter opened out to a broadened interest in the culture of South Koreans, enabling him to further appreciate the importance of Japan's peripheral cultures, which differed from Tokyo-centered culture. This pursuit provided realistic substance to his study of Mikhail Bakhtin's theory regarding a people's culture which led him to write The Silent Cry (1967), a work that ties in the myths and history of the forest village with the contemporary age.

After The Silent Cry, two streams of thought, which at times flow as one, are apparent and consistent in Oe's literary world. Starting with A Personal Matter is one group of works that depicts his life of coexistence with his mentally-handicapped son, Hikari. Teach Us to Outgrow our Madness(1969), a two-volume work, painfully portrays both the agony-laden trials and errors he experiences in his life with his yet unspeaking infant child, and his pursuit of his father he lost during the war. My Deluged Soul* (1973) depicts a father who relates to his infant child who, through the medium of the songs of the wild birds, has started to communicate with the family, and who empathizes with youths that belong to a belligerent and radical political party. Rouse Up, O, Young Men of the New Age!* (1983), a work in which Oe draws upon images from William Blake's Prophecies, depicts his son Hikari's development from a child to a young man, and thus crowns the works he wrote about his handicapped child.

The second group are stories in which Oe relates characters who he establishes in the theater of the myths and history of his native forest village, but who interact closely with life in today's cities. This world of Oe's fiction, starting with Bud- Nipping, Lamb-Shooting and followed by The Silent Cry, came to shape the core of his entire literature. Making full use of new ideas of cultural anthropology, these works represent the totality of Oe's world of fiction, as evidenced in Letters to My Sweet Bygone Years (1987), a work about a young man who, banking on his cosmology and world-view of Dante, strives but fails to establish a politico- cultural base in the forest. Contemporary Games is a story that alternates between myth and history, which Oe supports with the matriarch and trickster principles he draws from cultural anthropology. He rewrote this work in narrative form as M/T and the Wonders of the Forest* (1986). With the aid of W.B. Yeat's poetic metaphors, Oe embarked on writing The Flaming Green Tree*, a trilogy comprised of Until the 'Savior' Gets Socked* (1993), Vacillating* (1994), and On The Great Day* (1995). Oe has announced that with the completion of this trilogy, he will enter into his life's final stage of study, in which he will attempt a new form of literature. The implication of this project is that Oe deems his effort at presenting his cosmology, history and folk legend as having been brought to full circle, and that he has succeeded in creating, through his portrayal of that place in the valley and its people, a model for this contemporary age. It also implies that he considers Hikari's becoming a composer, in actuality, surpasses the importance of his own literature about him.

Oe's winning the Nobel Prize for 1994 has thus encouraged him to embark on his pursuit of a new form of literature and a new life for himself.

This biography was last updated on 01/16/2014.

A note about the biographies
We try to keep BookBrowse's biographies both up to date and accurate. However, with over 2500 lives to keep track of it's inevitable that some won't be as current or as complete as we would like. So, please help us - if the information about a particular author is out of date, inaccurate or simply very short, and you know of a more complete source, please let us know. Authors and those connected with authors: If you wish to make changes to your bio, please send your complete biography as you would like it displayed so that we can replace the old with the new.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Kenzaburo Oe at BookBrowse

Recommended in Detail at BookBrowse

The Changeling
The Changeling

by Kenzaburo Oe

The Changeling, the latest from Kenzaburo Oe, is an ambitious, sweeping novel about friendships, artistic ambitions, and the distances we’ll travel to preserve both.
Read More

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Kenzaburo Oe but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Ma Jian

    Ma Jian

    Ma Jian was born in Qingdao, China, in 1953. He worked as a watch-mender’s apprentice, a painter of propaganda boards, and a photojournalist. At the age of thirty, he left his job and traveled for three years across ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Changeling

    Try:
    Beijing Coma
    by Ma Jian

  • Haruki Murakami

    Haruki Murakami

    Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and graduated from the Waseda University, Tokyo, in 1975. He and his wife lived in Europe and the United States from ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Changeling

    Try:
    1Q84
    by Haruki Murakami

We recommend 6 similar authors

View all 6 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  125Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.