British author Kazuo Ishiguro, best known for his novel The Remains of the Day and whose emotional uprooting from his native Japan has left an indelible stamp on his work, won the 2017 Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday.
The 62-year-old, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world,” the Academy wrote in its citation.
Contacted by the BBC, Ishiguro said he was “flabbergastingly flattered” by the award.
“It’s a magnificent honour, 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.
Ishiguro has written eight books as well as scripts for film and television.
In 1989, he won the Man Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day, which was published the same year, and in 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services to literature.
‘An exquisite novelist’
“This year’s laureate is a brilliant and even exquisite novelist,” Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told the TT news agency after the announcement.
She called The Remains of the Day a “masterpiece”, and described the author as a “writer of great integrity” who developed his own “aesthetic universe”.
Born in Nagasaki in 1954, nine years after the US dropped a nuclear bomb on the city, Ishiguro moved to Britain with his family when he was five years old. He only returned to visit Japan as an adult some three decades later.
Both his first novel “A Pale View of Hills” from 1982 and the subsequent one, “An Artist of the Floating World” from 1986, take place in Nagasaki a few years after World War II.
“The themes Ishiguro is most associated with are already present here: memory, time, and self-delusion,” the Academy said.
“This is particularly notable in his most renowned novel, The Remains of the Day,” which was turned into a 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Charting the life of a painfully shy, duty-obsessed English butler, the film was nominated for eight Oscars.
“Ishiguro’s writings are marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place,” the Academy said.
‘I was taken away’
In a 1989 interview with Bomb Magazine, Ishiguro said: “I tend to be attracted to pre-war and post-war settings because I’m interested in this business of values and ideals being tested, and people having to face up to the notion that their ideals weren’t quite what they thought they were before the test came.”
In a 1991 interview with former Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe of Japan, he said the Japan he wrote about in “An Artist In the Floating World” was “very much my own personal, imaginary Japan.”
“This may have a lot to do with my own personal history. As a small child, I was taken away from the people I knew, like my grandparents and my friends.
“I couldn’t forget Japan because I had to prepare myself for returning to it. So I grew up with a very strong image in my head of this other country, a very important other country to which I had a strong emotional tie,” he said.
“I’m beginning to see as I get older that my leaving Japan at the point when I did was, in complicated ways, a key defining thing,” he said in a 1995 interview with the Financial Times.
‘Jane Austen with Kafka’
His more recent fiction contains elements of fantasy.
With the critically-acclaimed dystopian work Never Let Me Go from 2005, Ishiguro introduced “a cold undercurrent” of science fiction into his work.
Inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Marcel Proust, Ishiguro’s characters often painfully come to terms with who they are without closure.
“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. And then you stir but not too much, and then you have his writings,” Danius said.
His latest novel, The Buried Giant from 2015 explores “in a moving manner, how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality,” the Academy noted.
In the book, 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.
His publisher Faber & Faber wrote on Twitter after the announcement, “We’re THRILLED Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize!”
Ishiguro, who early in his life wanted to be a rock star, “a new Dylan or something”, was not among those tipped for this year’s Nobel.
Now, he and Bob Dylan have something in common.
Last year, the Swedish Academy stunned the world by awarding the prestigious honour to the American rock legend and counter-culture icon.
The Nobel comes with a prize of nine million kronor ($1.1 million, 945,000 euros).
Ishiguro will receive his prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.
© Agence France-Presse