Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe—known for his books on pacifism and his disabled son—died earlier this month, on March 3, in Japan, a statement released by publisher Kodansha said.
In 1994, Oe became the second Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, after Yasunari Kawabata. Family members have already held the funeral of the writer, who died of old age, the publisher confirmed.
‘Full of hope for a rebirth’
Born in the village of Shikoku, Oe was raised by his mother after his father died in the Second World War. Japan’s involvement in the Second World War left a lasting impact on Oe, who was ten years old at the end of the conflict. The democratic ideology of the American forces inspired him. According to Oe, he belonged to a generation of writers who were “deeply wounded” by the war “yet full of hope for a rebirth.”
Oe then went on to study French Literature at Tokyo University. There, he started to publish stories as a student. He won the Akutagawa Prize—an award for young authors—in 1958 for his novella, The Catch, in which he wrote about an American pilot captured by Japanese villagers during the war.
“Oe’s most notable works were inspired by his son, who was born in 1963 with a cranial deformity that resulted in a mental disability.”
In an interview in 2014, he said that he believed Japan held “some” responsibility in the war. “This war, in which so many large powers were involved, caused great suffering for people all over the world... And it is a reality that within this immense war, nuclear weapons were created and used,” he said.
He also turned down an award by the emperor—Japan’s Order of Culture Award—in 1994. “I would not recognise any authority, any value, higher than democracy,” he said, clarifying his stance to The New York Times. Later in his life, the writer also arranged several anti-nuclear protests. He criticised the country’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his attempts to revise the country’s pacifist constitution.
An author with ‘poetic force’
Oe’s most notable works were inspired by his son, who was born in 1963 with a cranial deformity that resulted in a mental disability. His book, A Personal Matter, was published a year after the birth in which the author wrote about his struggles with accepting his son’s disability.
The Nobel committee described Oe as an author “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”