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What to Know About Literature’s Newest Nobel Winner British Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro

The author of The Remains of the Day and seven other books explores themes of memory, time and self-deception

British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro during a press conference at his home in London, Thursday Oct. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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This morning, the Nobel Prize Committee announced British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro had become the 114th recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Ishiguro is the author of eight books, including 1989’s The Remains of the Day, which won the Man Booker Prize and was turned into a critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie, reports the BBC. The prize citation calls Ishiguro a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

Known to friends as “Ish,” Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. But the writer left Japan at the age of five when his father, an oceanographer, was offered a job in the United Kingdom. There, the Nobel Committee writes, Ishiguro studied literature and philosophy at Kent University and earned a Master’s in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where his thesis became his first novel, 1982’s A Pale View of Hills.

Alexandra Alter and Dan Bilefsky at The New York Times report that while the setting and genres of Ishiguro’s work vary, the themes of memory, time and self-delusion have always been a constant. A Pale View of Hills and its follow-up, An Artist of the Floating World, published in 1986, both take place in post-war Nagasaki and follow sometimes unreliable narrators looking back on the collapse of their lives after the defeat of Japan. For his third novel, The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro turned to a decidedly English theme, the diary of an English butler who reflects on his inability to connect with the housekeeper he once worked with. Critics describe 1995’s The Unconsoled as magical realism. In 2000’s When We Were Orphans, Ishiguro tries his hand at a literary detective novel, and 2005’s Never Let Me Go is a near-future sci-fi novel about a relationship that develops between students at an English boarding school of clones whose organs will eventually be harvested for their wealthy owners. His latest novel, The Sleeping Giant is a fantasy set in post-Arthurian Britain and includes encounters with ogres and pixies. He also has published a short story collection, and written scripts for movies and television.

“If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix,” Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said during the prize announcement. “Then you stir, but not too much, then you have his writings. He’s a writer of great integrity. He doesn’t look to the side, he’s developed an aesthetic universe all his own.”

Other writers greeted the announcement with praise for Ishiguro. “Many congratulations to my old friend Ish, whose work I’ve loved and admired ever since I first read A Pale View of Hills,” Salman Rushdie, who has been on the short-list for the Nobel for decades, told Alison Flood at The Guardian. Riffing on last year's awardee, Rushdie added: “And he plays the guitar and writes songs too! Roll over Bob Dylan.”

The BBC first broke the news to the writer, who had not yet received an official call at the time. "It's a magnificent honor, mainly because it means that I’m in the footsteps of the greatest authors that have lived, so that's a terrific commendation,” he said. “The world is in a very uncertain moment and I would hope all the Nobel Prizes would be a force for something positive in the world as it is at the moment. I'll be deeply moved if I could in some way be part of some sort of climate this year in contributing to some sort of positive atmosphere at a very uncertain time.”

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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