Japanese wins Nobel prize for literature

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The Independent Online
STOCKHOLM - The Jap anese writer Kenzaburo Oe has won this year's Nobel Prize for literature with his bleak, controversial portrayal of human nature.

Oe, aged 59, born in Ose on the island of Shikoku, was the third son of a samurai family. He is known as an opponent of nuclear weapons and proponent of human rights.

His 'poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament', said the literature committee of the Swedish Academy.

Influenced deeply by the devastation of two atomic bombs and by his experience as the father of a disabled son, Oe's works in recent years have won him a reputation as Japan's 'enfant terrible and literary outsider'. He has examined the 'demons' in his life and in the nation's past, even as Japan tried to leave behind its pain from the war.

Oe is the second Japanese writer to win the Nobel prize. In 1968, Yasunari Kawabata was honoured. Speaking from his home, Oe said the award reflected respect for Japanese literature and credited other writers, including Kobo Abe and Masuji Ibuse, who both died last year.

In his most famous work,

A Personal Matter, which was published in 1964, Oe explored his angst over the birth of a mentally handicapped first-born son. The novel's protagonist reacts to the birth of a deformed child by getting fired and plotting its death with a mistress. At the last minute, he decides to accept the child.

In the English translation, the protagonist, Bird, describes the scene after learning of his son's condition: 'The only sound in the room was a voice as faint as the buzzing of a bee's wings. But what Bird heard was not a human voice endowed with meaning and mood, nor was he distinguishing meaningful shapes in the flickering shadows on the screen.'

The academy hailed Oe's 1967 novel, The Silent Cry, as a work dealing with relationships in a confused world where 'knowledge, passions, dreams, ambitions and attitudes merge into each other'.

Oe has stressed he writes for Japanese readers, but says he has been influenced by Western writers, including Dante, Rabelais, Balzac, and Sartre.

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