Kenzaburo Oe

Banquet speech

Kenzaburo Oe’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1994

I am a strange Japanese who spent his infancy and boyhood under the overwhelming influence of Nils Holgersson. So great was Nils’ influence on me that there was a time I could name Sweden’s beautiful locales better than those of my own country.

Nils’ ponderous weight extended to my literary predilections. I turned a cold shoulder to “The Tale of Genji”. I felt closer to Selma Lagerlöf and respected her more than Lady Murasaki, the author of this celebrated work. However, thanks again to Nils and his friends, I have rediscovered the attraction to “The Tale of Genji”. Nils’ winged comrades carried me there.

Genji, the protagonist of the classic tale, bids a flock of geese he sees in flight to search for his wife’s departed soul which has failed to appear even in his dreams.

The destination of the soul: this is what I, led on by Nils Holgersson, came to seek in the literature of Western Europe. I fervently hope that my pursuit, as a Japanese, of literature and culture will, in some small measure, repay Western Europe for the light it has shed upon the human condition. Perhaps my winning the Prize has availed me of one such opportunity. Still, so many gifts of thought and insight keep coming, and I have hardly begun to do anything in return. This banquet, too, is another gift which I accept with deep gratitude. I thank you.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1994, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1995

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1994

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