Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kōbō Abe

Kimifusa Abe
Born: March 7, 1924; Tokyo, Japan
Died: January 22, 1993; Tokyo, Japan

Kōbō Abe (ahb-eh) was born on March 7, 1924, in Tokyo, Japan, during an interval when his Japanese father, a physician associated with the Manchurian School of Medicine in Mukden (later Shenyang), China, was in Japan on a research assignment. The family went to China shortly after the child was a year old. Abe remained in Mukden until he was sixteen. The experience of living outside his native country appears to have had a deep and lasting effect on Abe. The idea of one’s homeland, traditionally very deeply ingrained in the Japanese, seems to have scarcely existed for Abe, according to his own comment about his early years. As a matter of fact, official family documents show him to have registered as a native of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. It is true that he lived in Hokkaido for several years, but Tokyo was indisputably his birthplace. Thus, Tokyo, where he was born, Mukden, the principal place where he was reared, and Hokkaido, the place of his family’s origin, seemed to have little connection in the writer’s mind. Abe himself is said to have commented that he was a “man without a hometown.”

As a young man, Abe was interested in mathematics, in collecting insects, and in reading Japanese translations of such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevski, Franz Kafka, and the German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. He made the decision to pursue literature as a career while he was still a medical student. Abe’s medical background has influenced his writing. He has, for example, written science fiction. One of his science-fiction novels is Daiyon kampyōki (1958-1959, serial, 1959, book; Inter Ice Age 4, 1970).

Abe had a collection of poems privately printed in 1947. His first published fiction, Owarishi michi no shirube ni (as a signpost for the road), appeared in 1948, the same year he was graduated from medical school. Abe was not only a gifted novelist and short-story writer; he was also a playwright and producer. His own theatrical company often produced his plays.

As do many writers, Abe makes literary use of experiences and facts of his own life. For example, in Manchuria, where he was reared, deserts were familiar to him, and the shifting sands of Suna no onna (1962; The Woman in the Dunes, 1964) show the writer’s knowledge of life amid the sands.

While Abe was still a medical student, he married an accomplished artist and stage designer; the couple followed independent careers. They had one daughter, Neri. Machi, his wife, has provided superior illustrations for many of her husband’s works.

Abe died of heart failure in Tokyo on January 22, 1993. One of the foremost writers in Japan, he received several literary prizes: One short story, “Akai mayu” (1950; “Red Cocoon,” 1966), won the Postwar Literature Prize. The play Tomodachi (pr., pb. 1967; Friends, 1969) was awarded the Tanizaki Jūn’ichirō Prize.

Seifuku, pr., pb. 1955
Yūrei wa koko ni iru, pr. 1958 (The Ghost Is Here, 1993)
Omae ni mo tsumi ga aru, pr., pb. 1965 (You, Too, Are Guilty, 1978)
Tomodachi, pr., pb. 1967 (Friends, 1969)
Bō ni natta otoko, pr., pb. 1969 (The Man Who Turned into a Stick, 1975)
Gikyoku zenshū, pb. 1970
Gaido bukku, pr. 1971
Imeji no tenrankai, pr. 1971 (pr. in the U.S. as The Little Elephant Is Dead, 1979)
Mihitsu no koi, pr., pb. 1971 (Involuntary Homicide, 1993)
Midoriiro no sutokkingu, pr., pb. 1974 (The Green Stockings, 1993)
Ue: Shin doreigari, pr., pb. 1975
Three Plays, pb. 1993

long fiction
Owarishi michi no shirube ni, 1948
Baberu no tō no tanuki, 1951
Mahō no chōku, 1951
Kiga dōmei, 1954
Kemonotachi wa kokyō o mezasu, 1957
Daiyon kampyōki, 1958-1959 (serial), 1959 (book) (Inter Ice Age 4, 1970)
Ishi no me, 1960
Suna no onna, 1962 (The Woman in the Dunes, 1964)
Tanin no kao, 1964 (The Face of Another, 1966)
Moetsukita chizu, 1967 (The Ruined Map, 1969)
Hako otoko, 1973 (The Box Man, 1974)
Mikkai, 1977 (Secret Rendezvous, 1979)
Hakobune sakura maru, 1984 (The Ark Sakura, 1988)
Kangarū nōto, 1991 (The Kangaroo Notebook, 1996)
Tobu otoko, 1994

Abe Kobo zenshū, 1972-1997 (30 volumes)

Uchinaro henkyō, 1971

Mumei shishū, 1947

short fiction
Kabe, 1951
Suichū toshi, 1964
Yume no tōbō, 1968
Four Stories by Kōbō Abe, 1973
Beyond the Curve, 1991

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