With the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize winners, British contemporary author Kazuo Ishiguro joins the small but extremely talented cohort of writers from Japan or of Japanese descent to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of picking up a work from one of these prize-winning authors, here are 9 essential novels to add to your reading list.
Kenzaburo Oe was born in 1935 and came of age during the post-World War II US occupation of Japan. While much of the literature from this period is marked by a bleak or despondent mood, Oe’s works are known for their sharp yet somehow uplifting humor. Many of his books are inspired by his own experiences raising a son who was born with brain damage. Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994.
Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (1958)
Oe’s first novel Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, or 『芽むしり仔撃ち』 Memushiri kouchi, published in 1958, tells the story of a group of young troublemakers who find themselves alone without adult supervision when plague breaks out during the war. The book has been compared to both William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Albert Camus’s The Plague.
A Personal Matter (1964)
Originally titled 『個人的な体験』 Kojinteki Na Taiken, the 1964 novel A Personal Matter is the dark comedy of a man who struggles with the birth of his developmentally disabled son. The book is highly regarded for its existentialist meanderings and black, lyrical beauty.
Yasubari Kawabata (1899-1972) became the first ever Japanese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. He’s known for his masterful command of prose, achieved through sparse yet hauntingly beautiful language that draws on traditional Japanese aesthetics.
Snow Country (1937)
The 1937 story Snow Country, known as 『雪国』 Yukiguni in Japanese, is considered by many to be Kawabata’s greatest masterpiece. A romantic tragedy about a married man from Tokyo and the geisha with whom he had fallen in love at an onsen resort many years before, the novel’s poetic descriptions capture the dreamlike beauty of the snowy onsenvillage with an almost haiku-like delicacy.