Books Chapter & Verse

Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize in Literature

The Nobel judges described Ishiguro as a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with 'a little bit of Marcel Proust.'

British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro speaks during a press conference at his home in London, Thursday Oct. 5, 2017.
Alastair Grant/AP
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The Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has won this year’s Nobel Prize in literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday.

Best known for his novels “The Remains of the Day,” and “Never Let Me Go,” Mr. Ishiguro was praised by judges as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

Ishiguro was a surprise choice, edging out favorites like Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami. Of course, he’s certainly no lightweight – his literary credentials include a Man Booker Prize for “Remains of the Day,” and seven novels that are both critical and commercial successes – and his win marks a return to more traditional territory after last year’s selection of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

The British novelist said winning the award was “flabbergastingly flattering,” and assured The Washington Post the win was a surprise.

“What sane person expects to win the Nobel Prize? If I’d expected it, I would have washed my hair. I look like Lieutenant Columbo,” he said.

He told the BBC he hopes his win marks a positive note in an uncertain world.

“It comes at a time when the world is uncertain about its values, its leadership and its safety,” Ishiguro said. “I just hope that my receiving this huge honor will, even in a small way, encourage the forces for goodwill and peace at this time.”

The author is known for works about pain and loss, and the reflection and growth that comes from life’s experiences. His writing is “marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place,” according to the Swedish Academy, who also described his writing as a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with “a little bit of Marcel Proust.”

Two of his best known novels have been adapted into films – “Remains of the Day,” about a butler looking back on his life of duty and wondering if it was worth it, and “Never Let Me Go,” a dystopian novel set in a boarding school in Britain in which the reader experiences a gradual, crushing realization of the strange, tragic events the students are fated to do.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. His father was an oceanographer and his mother had survived the atomic bomb attack. He moved to England with his parents at age 5, where he was raised. His early books are set in Japan, his homeland that he never really knew, while his later books are set in England.

The author attended British boarding schools, but took time off in the early 1970s to hitchhike across the US with his guitar, all experiences that have informed his novels.

As for his writing, this is how Ishiguro once described it to the Los Angeles Times: “I try to say things as simply and cleanly as possible.”

 

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