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Ishiguro Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 has been awarded to English author Kazuo Ishiguro, “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

Kazuo Ishiguro (Photo by Jeff Cottenden)

Professor Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, made the announcement on Oct. 5. She described Ishiguro’s writing style as a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka: “But you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix, and then you stir.”

Ishiguro was born on Nov. 8, 1954 in Nagasaki. The family moved to the United Kingdom when he was five years old; he returned to visit his country of birth only as an adult. In the late 1970s, he graduated in English and philosophy at the University of Kent, and then went on to study creative writing at the University of East Anglia.

Ishiguro has been a full-time author ever since his first book, “A Pale View of Hills” (1982). Both his first novel and the subsequent one, “An Artist of the Floating World” (1986), take place in Nagasaki a few years after the Second World War. The themes Ishiguro is most associated with are already present here: memory, time, and self-delusion. This is particularly notable in his most renowned novel, “The Remains of the Day” (1989), which was turned into film with Anthony Hopkins acting as the duty-obsessed butler Stevens.

Ishiguro’s writings are marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place. At the same time, his more recent fiction contains fantastic features. With the dystopian work “Never Let Me Go” (2005), Ishiguro introduced a cold undercurrent of science fiction into his work. In this novel, as in several others, we also find musical influences. A striking example is the collection of short stories titled “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall” (2009), where music plays a pivotal role in depicting the characters’ relationships.

In his latest novel, “The Buried Giant” (2015), an elderly couple go on a road trip through an archaic English landscape, hoping to reunite with their adult son, whom they have not seen for years. This novel explores, movingly, how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality.

Apart from his eight books, Ishiguro has also written scripts for film and television.

Ishiguro said in an interview, “It’s a terrific honor for me is because … you know I come in a line of lots of my greatest heroes, absolutely great authors. The greatest authors in history have received this prize, and I have to say, you know, it’s great to come one year after Bob Dylan, who was my hero since the age of 13. He’s probably my biggest hero.”

Past recipients of the award, which has been presented since 1901, include Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl Buck, Hermann Hesse, William Faulkner, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, John Steinbeck, Jean-Paul Sartre, Yasunari Kawabata, Samuel Beckett, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, Pablo Neruda, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Octavio Paz, Toni Morrison, Kenzaburo Oe, Dario Fo, Gao Xingjian, Harold Pinter, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mo Yan and Alice Munro.

Ishiguro said that the timing of the award is pertinent: “I’m nearly 63 years old. I can’t remember a time when we were so uncertain about our values in the Western world. You know, I think we are going through a time of great uncertainty about our values, about our leadership. People don’t feel safe. So I do hope that things like the Nobel Prize will in some way contribute to the positive things in the world, to the decent values in the world, and that it would contribute to some sense of continuity and decency.”

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