Kenzaburo Oe: Nobel Prize Winner for Literature

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It is always a delight to visit a temperate country in autumn. You see the leaves turning gold and some slowly falling into Earth that seems to wait to consume them as a reminder that they too turn to dust. In Moscow, they call that season Pushkin’s autumn, at least when I was there in 1971. Alexander Pushkin was a Russian poet whose beautiful poems are easy for ordinary people to appreciate.

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The symbolism of the leaves turning gold and slowly drifting to the ground is not difficult to imagine or understand – that life is as precious as gold but the falling of the golden leaves signifies man’s mortality. “Dust thou art to dust returneth,” as a poet once wrote.

But there are things worth much more than gold to many. Books are some of them.

It is with these thoughts in mind when I left General Edgardo Abenina in a hotel in Tokyo – to view golden leaves falling and to look for books that are worth more than gold to me. These are precious books written by famous Japanese authors, translated into English, since I do not read nor write Japanese.

I was accompanied by a Japanese client to look for a book store with books written by Japanese authors, translated into English. Fortunately, he knew of a book store in the Shinjuku district in Tokyo. It was a several story building with the book store at the eighth floor. I had several authors in mind since I had been reading some Japanese authors while in college at UP and in my spare time as trial lawyer and law professor – ranging from Nobel Prize novelist Yasunari Kawabata to Yukio Mishima and JunichiroTanizaki, not to speak of Tales of Genji.

At the center of the room was a well arranged pile of books written by famous and not so famous Japanese authors. I wanted to find a new Japanese author who has an established reputation in Japan or internationally. While looking at the titles, I saw a novel, Paths to Life, written by an author whose name was quite unfamiliar to me. In the cover was written that the author was a Nobel Prize Winner. I never thought there was another Nobel Prize winner for Literature in Japan other than Yasunari Kawabata. The find was an exciting discovery for me as a novel of a Nobel Prize winner is an invitation to buy, for me or any other person interested in literature.

I was about to retrieve the book from the pile when someone gently tapped me on my shoulder. I looked behind me where the man was standing. He was an older man with gray hair. He looked serious and told me gently, in impeccable English: “No, not that book!”

“Why?” I replied.

“That’s badly translated,” he answered.

“Why do you know?” I asked him again.

“I wrote it,” he replied very gently, in a voice hardly audible.

Then he picked up a book from the pile and handed it to me saying, “Here buy this one.” It is a book entitled A Quiet Life by Kenzaburo Oe. I was quick to react by asking him to autograph the book for me. He accommodated my request, with this dedication: “To Mr. Adaza, with due respect, Kenzaburo Oe” There were two young boys around us who immediately bought a copy each of the same and asked him to sign it. He did. My client guide who hardly spoke English also bought a copy of the book and asked the author to sign it. He politely obliged as educated Japanese usually do.

With me and the three other guys still savoring the excitement of accidentally encountering a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Kenzaburo Oe quietly left us in the same quiet manner that he gently came into our lives.

Kenzaburo Oe melted away from the book store as quietly he came. Curious about his being there, I asked the manager of the store who was standing a few steps away from us,
”Excuse me, Sir, does Kenzaburo Oe come to your book store regularly?”

“No, this is his first time to be here,” the manager answered.

I told myself, what an experience; what a miracle! I wonder how many of the hundred million Filipinos had the unusual opportunity of having met a Nobel Prize winner for Literature. Kenzaburo Oe may not be as famous in the Philippines as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner or Winston Churchill but he is certainly known by Japanese knowledgeable literary circles in the world, and the millions of lonely or not so lonely people who love to read, for the love of reading and learning.

Those who love novels like Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, and Farewell to Arms; Yukio Mishima’s Runaway Horses and Temple of the Golden Pavilion; Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River and Look Homeward, Angel; Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet; Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist and By the River Piedra, I Cried and Wept, to name just a few, you will certainly enjoy Kenzaburo Oe’s A Quiet Life, for a beginning.

From there you can take a leap to Filipino authors like Stevan Javellana, F. Sionil Jose, Edith and Edilberto Tiempo, NVM Gonzales, Resil Mojares, Ninotcha Rozca, Greg Brilliantes, Estrella Alfon and Fausto Dugenio. Enjoying them, you will likely enjoy Kenzaburo Oe, too.

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8 Comments

  1. Yes Sir, Mr. Adaza, I am a product of a public trade school but then “Without Seeing the Dawn” by Stevan Javellana was also a required reading for us! Fourth year high school English Literature. Am not too sure though if it’s available in the Hiligaynon Languge as the author is an Hilonggo.

  2. That meeting with Mr. Oe was heaven sent… as you are a lover of books and I heard you have thousands of books!! A nice experience to share.

  3. The Mindanawon Homobono Adaza has only shown his intellectual side. Rather than throwing garbage vegetables on the great Mindanawon, President Rodrigo D Du30, who could be best chief executive in history, Adaza by now should promote peace, justice and freedom for the oppressed and colonised victims of Mindanao. Surely, he will not be forgotten in Mindanao history similarly like Reuben Canoy and Emmanuel Pelaez. Good day to Sir Homobono Adaza!

  4. Rudi Miranda on

    Bon Thank you for this piece! Have you read Eiji Yoshikawa’s Mushasi?

    • Rudi, I asked Atty. Bono Adaza whether he has read Mushasi, his reply is No. He said that he has read the works of other Japanese authors like Yukio Mishima, Junichiro Tanizaki, Kobo Abe and Yasunari Kawabata.Bono sends his bet regards.

  5. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    13 May 2016

    I enjoyed reading this column, “Kenzaburo Oe: Nobel Prize Winner for Literature,” by Homobono Adaza in The Manila Times of May 14th–a refreshing change from his usual columns about economic, political and other problems which continue to bedevil the country,

    In his last paragraph, Attorney Adaza mentions Filipino authors Stevan Javellana, F. Sionil Jose, Edith and Edilberto Tiempo NVM Gonzales, Resil Mojares, Ninotcha Rozca, Greg Brilliontes, Estrella Alfon and Fausto Dugenio–all of them well known by the Filipino literati.

    I could be completely wrong, but I don’t think any Filipino writer has ever won a Noble Prize in Literature–or is it “not yet, anyway.” It is my fond hope that before my own “autumn leaves drift by the window” and fall to the ground to fertilize the earth, one Filipino writer will win a Nobel in Literature.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

    • Dr. Patalinjug – No Filipino has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is not too remote to expect a Filipino author may win the Nobel in 20 to 30 years.