Indeed it’s always the greatest of writers who win the Nobel prize in literature. And nevertheless Kazuo Ishiguro wins the Nobel Prize in literature 2017. The British author behind books including Man Booker winner The Remains of the Day takes the award for his ‘novels of great emotional force.’ Ishiguro, author of novels including The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, was praised by the Swedish Academy for novels which “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world” and were driven by a “great emotional force”.

Kazuo Ishiguro, born in Japan and now a British citizen, won the Man Booker Prize in 1989 for his acclaimed novel The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro was born on November 8, 1954. In 1981, Ishiguro published a collection of short stories, followed in 1982 by his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, about a Japanese widow in England who reflects on the destruction of Nagasaki in WWII. Ishiguro's second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, also explored Japanese reactions to World War II through a first-person narrator, in this case a Japanese artist.

What Ishiguro's novels share in common are first-person narrators who exhibit frailties or flaws that are exposed in their reminiscing or account of events. His novels are at once character studies and moral inventories that serve to illuminate the context of given political events. In the course of a story, then, we not only see a character struggling with their own feelings in reaction to interpersonal situations, but also a political environment. The Remains of the Day, his third novel, was published in 1989 and won not only the Booker Prize, but also became an acclaimed film as well as a radio broadcast on the BBC. Ishiguro followed up The Remains of the Day with The Unconsoled in 1995, which was about a concert pianist, and later with When We Were Orphans in 2000, which was about a private detective in Shanghai investigating his parents' disappearance. In 2005, he published Never Let Me Go, and even dabbled in screenplays, writing the full-length film The Saddest Music in the World, directed by Guy Maddin and starring Isabella Rossellini.

The Nobel Prize for literature comes with winnings of 9m Swedish krona (£832,000). Permanent secretary of the academy, Sara Danius, spoke to Ishiguro about his win around an hour after the announcement. It was a marked change to previous winners such as Bob Dylan, who took weeks to acknowledge the accolade, and Doris Lessing, who famously responded with a derisive “oh Christ” when the news was broken to her by reporters. Ishiguro has rarely spoken as a public intellectual. Of his generation, far more prominent in this respect have been the much missed Angela Carter, along with Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. “I always felt that for novelists, its better not to appear on television,” he told a documentary by Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, in 2010. “I want people to relate to my stories, not to me as a person.” That makes the views Ishiguro does choose to express all the more telling. In the foreword to a 2016 edition of An Artist of the Floating World, for example, he said the novel was “very much shaped” by the divisive years of Margaret Thatcher’s rule in the early 1980s. Those years, he said, were characterized by “the pressures on people in every walk of life to take sides; the rigid certainties, shading into self-righteousness and sinister aggression, of ardent, often youthful factions; the agonizing about the role of the artist in a time of political change. And for me personally: the nagging sense of how difficult it is to see clearly above the dogmatic fervors of one’s day; and the fear that time and history would show that for all one’s good intentions, one had backed a wrong, shameful, even evil cause, and wasted one’s best years and talents to it.” By default, the Nobel award gives such interventions extra significance. Ishiguro clasped this in his early comments, referring to the great uncertainty today about values and leadership in the Western world, and to people feeling unsafe. How his voice, as much as his art, matches this new status will be fascinating to see. So will be the media and political response. At this stage, broadcast and print news coverage is perfunctory, though literary pages feature warm tributes. Ishiguro’s prize has no propulsion as a national-cultural story compared to those of the recent British laureates: V.S. Naipaul (2001), Harold Pinter (2005) and Doris Lessing (2007). No doubt the atomizing impacts of cyber revolution, and the erosion of critical arts journalism, are (related) factors in this. But it also has to do with these one-time pioneers’ vast political hinterland, provoking opinions, and celebrated vendettas. Their local fame was too set, their careers too advanced (Naipaul, the youngest, was sixty-eight), and — pace Ishiguro — their dogmatic fervors too aggravating for the Nobel to make anything new. Mr. Ishiguro, the 29th English-language novelist to win the prize, stands out from some previous choices for his accessible prose style. In a rarity for writers, Mr. Ishiguro is beloved by critics and scholars and is commercially successful; his work is widely known and read, and has been adapted into feature films, and a television series in Japan. His novels have collectively sold more than 2.5 million copies in the United States. His work, which includes scripts for film and television, looks at themes of memory, time and self-delusion. The Nobel committee praised his latest book The Buried Giant, which was released in 2015, for exploring "how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality".
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall was a collection of stories published in 2009. His most recent novel was The Buried Giant in 2015. Ishiguro has also written a number of screenplays, including The White Countess and The Saddest Music in the World, as well as other short stories. This time is different. Ishiguro is way beyond stereotype. True, a man whose heart beats on the left can expect a Daily Mail treatment with meager praise, as well as a Craig Brown parody in Private Eye following sublime ones of Naipaul and Pinter. But alongside his work and his personal qualities, Ishiguro’s eschewing of petty strife or political idiocy across four decades gives him a rare moral authority. At this moment, Kazuo Ishiguro is the best possible shot.


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