Kenzaburō Ōe, the 1994 Nobel literature laureate, first exploded onto Japan’s literary scene over half a century ago. And exploded is not too strong a word. His early novels were short, sharp and shocking. With their headlong intensity and an oddball cast of US airmen, subway gropers and wealthy young libertines, they quickly made him into Japan’s most popular purveyor of serious fiction.
Ōe’s work began to slow down, mature and bulk up in the mid-1960s after the birth of his first, brain-damaged child, an experience movingly fictionalised in A Personal Matter (1964). The author’s relationship with his handicapped son subsequently developed into one of his two principal themes, along with