Japanese Novelist Honored Oe Wins Nobel Prize with Themes of Loss

Article excerpt

Novelist Kenzaburo Oe, whose dark musings on moral failure came to symbolize an alienated generation in post-World War II Japan, won the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday.

In announcing the award, the Swedish Royal Academy cited Oe for his often disturbing works of fiction, in which "poetic force creates an imagined world where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."

In Japan, news of the award to Kenzaburo Oe (pronounced Ken-za-boo-roh OH-eh) led evening newscasts and spawned banner headlines, and the prime minister himself issued congratulations. The only other Japanese to win a Nobel in literature was Yasunari Kawabata, in 1968.

Oe, 59, reacted with gentle self-deprecation. "Whenever I was named as a candidate, I always thought it was a joke. I never thought about winning the prize."

Despite the outpouring of national pride over Oe's win, his principal literary themes evoke deep unease in Japan. A boy of 10 when the war ended, Oe came of age during the U.S. occupation.

The Swedish Royal Academy said: "The humiliation took a firm grip on him and has colored much of his work. He himself describes his writing as a way of exorcising demons."

Childhood wartime memories strongly colored the story that marked Oe's literary debut, "The Catch," about a rural boy's experiences with an American pilot shot down over his village.

Published in 1958 when Oe was still a university student, the story won Japan's prestigious Akutagawa prize for new writers. …

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