Kazuo Ishiguro, the British author of novels including “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go”, was praised by the Swedish Academy for novels (in 2017).
“You’d think someone would tell me first but none of us had heard anything,” said Ishiguro, who had been sitting at his kitchen table at home in London about to have brunch, when he got the call from his agent.
“It was completely not something I expected, otherwise I would have washed my hair this morning,” he said with a laugh. “It was absolute chaos. My agent phoned to say it sounded like they had just announced me as the Nobel winner,
but there’s so much fake news about these days it’s hard to know who or what to believe so I didn’t really believe it until journalists started calling and lining up outside my door.”
Ishiguro, who was born in Nagasaki, Japan (1954) but the family moved to the United Kingdom when he was five.He returned to visit his country of birth only as an adult.
He has talked of his connection with Japan, through relatives and his own early memories, and set his first two novels in his native country.
During a speech at the Nobel Banquet, the novelist recalled the first time he heard about the “Nobel Sho” (Japanese for Nobel Prize), from his mother when he was 5.
“The Nobel Sho, she said, was to promote heiwa — meaning peace or harmony. This was just 14 years after our city, Nagasaki, had been devastated by the atomic bomb,” Ishiguro said.
“His novels are most associated with memory, time and self-delusion”, the academy said.
If you’d come across me in the autumn of 1979, you might have had some difficulty placing me, socially or even racially. I was then 24 years old.
My features would have looked Japanese, but unlike most Japanese men seen in Britain in those days, I had hair down to my shoulders, and a drooping bandit-style moustache.
That autumn I’d arrived with a rucksack, a guitar and a portable typewriter in Buxton, Norfolk – a small English village with an old water mill and flat farm fields all around it.
I’d come to this place because I’d been accepted on a one-year postgraduate Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia.
In other words, after the frenetic life I’d been leading in London, here I was, faced with an unusual amount of quiet and solitude in which to transform myself into a writer.
In fact, having previously made firm plans to become a rock star by the time I was twenty, my literary ambitions had only recently made themselves known to me.
Then one night, during my third or fourth week in that little room, I found myself writing, with a new and urgent intensity, about Japan – about Nagasaki, the city of my birth, during the last days of the Second World War.
I had come to England, aged five, with my parents and sister in 1960, to the town of Guildford, Surrey, in the affluent’ stockbroker belt’ thirty miles south of London.
My father was a research scientist, an oceanographer who’d come to work for the British government.
When I look back to this period, and remember it was less than twenty years from the end of a world war in which the Japanese had been their bitter enemies, I’m amazed by the openness and instinctive generosity with which our family was accepted by this ordinary English community.
The affection, respect and curiosity I retain to this day for that generation of Britons who came through the Second World War, and built a remarkable new welfare state in its aftermath, derive significantly from my personal experiences from those years.
But all this time, I was leading another life at home with my Japanese parents. At home there were different rules, different expectations, a different language. My parent’s original intention had been that we return to Japan after a year, perhaps two.
In fact, for our first eleven years in England, we were in a perpetual state of going back ‘next year’.
As a result, my parents’ outlook remained that of visitors, not of immigrants. They’d often exchange observations about the curious customs of the natives without feeling any onus to adopt them.
And for a long time the assumption remained that I would return to live my adult life in Japan, and efforts were made to keep up the Japanese side of my education.
Each month a parcel arrived from Japan, containing the previous month’s comics, magazines and educational digests, all of which I devoured eagerly.
In 1999 I was invited by the German poet Christoph Heubner on behalf of the International Auschwitz Committee to spend a few days visiting the former concentration camp.
My accommodation was at the Auschwitz Youth Meeting Centre on the road between the first Auschwitz camp and the Birkenau death camp two miles away.
I was shown around these sites and met, informally, three survivors. I felt I’d come close, geographically at least, to the heart of the dark force under whose shadow my generation had grown up.
At Birkenau, on a wet afternoon, I stood before the rubbled remains of the gas chambers. My hosts talked about their dilemma.
Should these remains be protected? Should perspex domes be built to cover them over, to preserve them for the eyes of succeeding generations? Or should they be allowed, slowly and naturally, to rot away to nothing?
It seemed to me a powerful metaphor for a larger dilemma. How were such memories to be preserved? Would the glass domes transform these relics of evil and suffering into tame museum exhibits? What should we choose to remember? When is it better to forget and move on?
I was 44 years old. Until then I’d considered the Second World War, its horrors and its triumphs, as belonging to my parents’ generation. But now it occurred to me that before too long, many who had witnessed those huge events at first hand would not be alive.
And what then? Did the burden of remembering fall to my own generation? We hadn’t experienced the war years, but we’d at least been brought up by parents whose lives had been indelibly shaped by them.
Did I, now as a public teller of stories, have a duty I’d hitherto been unaware of? A duty to pass on, as best I could, these memories and lessons from our parent’s generation to the one after our own?
🔵 Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.
🔵 Confident and unafraid，we must labor on – not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.
🔵 Everybody’s talking about peace, but nobody does anything about it in a peaceful way.
His 1982 debut novel “A Pale View of Hills” depicts a woman from Nagasaki reflecting on her life and the aftermath of the city’s atomic bombing.
“The Remains of the Day” ,which depicts a butler in postwar Britain who recalls his time serving his aristocratic master, was made into a film in 1993 with Academy Award-winning Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins in the role of the duty-obsessed butler Stevens.
Other notable works include the 2005 dystopian science fiction novel “Never Let Me Go”, an international best-seller that was also adapted into a film in 2010. It describes a group of clones being raised for their organs.
Ishiguro’s most recent novel, “The Buried Giant”, was published in 2015.
Ahead of the ceremony, Ishiguro stressed the importance of literature in an increasingly divided world. During his Nobel lecture at the academy, he said that “good writing and good reading will break down barriers.”
Ishiguro became the third Japanese-born writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature, following Yasunari Kawabata in 1968 and Kenzaburo Oe in 1994.
Love and Peace ☆