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“Prize Stock” by Kenzaburo Oe



I was once in “Oe Kenzaburo phase”. I devoured his complete oeuvre. He still remains the most special writer to me. His style is so unique, and no writers can write like he does. When I read his works for the first time when I was 18, I was literally captured and captivated by his language, which is so rich and dense. The sentences which he crafts and elaborates are structurally complex and sometimes hard to read and yet at the same time render them so enticing all the more for that. They have distinctive drive and power to jolt people and evoke a wide range of intense and fresh images.


When he was 23, he wrote this story “Prize Stock”, which received Akutagawa Prize. It is said that would-be writers of his age gave up their dream due to having being devastated and overwhelmed by Oe’s writing and talent.


This story unfolds itself somewhere in the “periphery” (which is one of Oe’s important themes) of Japan during World War II. One day, the enemy’s plane lands there, which contains a black soldier in it. People in the village decide to keep him as the “catch”. At first, he’s treated like an animal. However, he gradually becomes part of the village, after which all of a sudden he gets killed. The themes of hierarchy, discrimination, and dehumanization are masterly interwoven in the story. This is the story of a boy growing up, losing innocence and naiveté. The depictions of anger, frustration, and helplessness of children stand out.


Thanks to Oe, I came to know the works of William Blake, W.H. Auden, and Flannery O’Connor. He taught me the beauty of appreciating stories by oscillating between Japanese, English, and French. Without him, my reading life would be quite different. His works have made my life enriched and colorful. He was my literary hero back in college days. And he still is. This story reminds me of how great and distinctive an author he is.


With this “Prize Stock”, we have finished the Oxford anthology for my discussion classes for Americas.


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