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Nobel Prize in Literature to Kazuo Ishiguro a Citizen of the World

Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 has been awarded by the Swedish Academy (Svenska Akademien) on Thursday 5 October 2017, to the British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world“.

According to Sara Danius, of the Swedish Academy, “If you mix Jane Austen and Kafka, you have Ishiguro, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix, and then you stir, but not too much, and then you have his writings. He’s developed an aesthetic universe all his own. He is exploring what you have to forget in order to survive in the first place as an individual or as a society.”

  • Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954. Reaction to the news of his Nobel win in his native Japan has been celebratory.
  • His family moved to England in 1960 for his father’s work as an oceanographer.
  • Ishiguro is married to Lorna MacDougall, from Scotland. They have one daughter.
  • He earned a master’s degree in 1980 and became a British citizen in 1982, the year he published his first novel, “A Pale View of Hills,” which is set in Nagasaki after the atomic bombing.
  • Ishiguro is an admired fiction writer who sits comfortably alongside such Nobel Laureates as Toni Morrison* and Alice Munro** (See Notes below).
  • Ishiguro has been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize four times.
  • Ishiguro won the Booker in 1989 for “The Remains of the Day,” which in 1993 was adapted into a movie in the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Movie was produced by Ismail Merchant & John Calley and nominated for eight Academy Awards.
  • Ishiguro plays the guitar and writes songs too!

Nobel Prize in literature, awarded since 1901, is now worth about $1 million. According to the terms set down by founder Alfred Nobel, the prize recognizes a writer who has “produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 was awarded to American musician Bob Dylan, a surprising decision that sparked criticism from some quarters. In 2015, the Belarusan investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich won the prize. Ishiguro’s win marks the Nobel’s return to a more traditional literary author. Ishiguro said, “Bob Dylan was my creative hero when I was growing up. When he won the Nobel, I was ecstatic. It’s an added thrill that I follow directly in his footsteps.”

While some Nobel Prize winners have been known for works of arid intellectuality, Ishiguro is after something else entirely. “I’m not a message person,” he said. “It’s been important to me that my work works through the emotions. I went into this because I wanted to share emotions with people, rather than intellectual ideas. Yes, I use words, and ideas certainly go in there, but, for me, the reason I want to write novels instead of essays is because I want to say, ‘This is how this one person over here feels’, and you recognize it. That’s an important thing to do, a simple thing to do, to try to connect with each other.”

His work is marked by a sense of painful loneliness. Joyce Carol Oates has called Ishiguro “one of our most eloquent poets of loss.” Reviewing his most recent novel, “The Buried Giant,” former Book World editor Marie Arana wrote: “His sensibility is neither Japanese nor English; it stands apart from any one culture. If these books have anything in common, it is that an unspoken secret is entombed at each core, an elusive truth that is inferred, but that no one quite understands or can fully articulate.”

Jonathan Yardley, a Book Critic, wrote in 2005 about his novel, “Never Let Me Go”, as “the best Ishiguro has written since the sublime ‘The Remains of the Day.’ It is almost literally a novel about humanity: what constitutes it, what it means, how it can be honoured or denied.”

Sonny Mehta, Ishiguro’s editor at Knopf, said: “I’ve always thought that Ish is an amazing writer. The breadth of his work as a novelist is astonishing. We’ve had the good fortune of being his publisher since ‘The Remains of the Day,’ a book that readers around the world have come to cherish. This acknowledgment from the Swedish academy is the most wonderful news.”

Ishiguro remains very much a citizen of the world, conscious of the way people suffer alienation everywhere. “I love living in London,” he recently told the Guardian, “but if I had to write a ‘London novel,’ I’d portray the capital as a vampire sucking the blood out of the rest of the country. I’m amazed people in Britain accept so quietly this lack of regional balance.”

Notes:

*Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, is an American novelist who won Nobel Prize in Literature 1993 and Pulitzer Prize 1988 for ‘Beloved’, a novel that was adapted into film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey & Danny Glover in 1998. Morrison received PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement inn American Fiction in 2016. Among her other best known novels are ‘The Bluest Eye,’ ‘Song of Solomon’ and ‘A Mercy.’

**Alice Munro was born on 10 July 1931 in Wingham, Ontario in Canada; was the second Canadian-born, writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature for her work as “master of the contemporary short story” in 2013, after Saul Bellow, and the 13th woman. Munro won 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. 

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