The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 has been awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro. The Nobel Committee announced the award by saying that Ishiguro, ‘in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.’
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. He emigrated to Britain with his family in 1960, where he was educated at the University of Kent at Canterbury. He studied English literature and philosophy, and then creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, A Pale View of Hills, was published in 1982. Here he is shortly after the publication of his first book, in discussion with his former teacher Malcolm Bradbury.
Granta’s first editor, Bill Buford, describes how he first came across the young writer:
‘At the end of the seventies, there were only two young novelists whom anyone was making a fuss over: Ian McEwan and Martin Amis (I know this because, editing the first issues of Granta, I had no young British writers to put in them) The novel belonged not to the young author, who was writing a play or a television drama or a poem or nothing, but to another, older generation: Iris Murdoch, Angus Wilson, Kingsley Amis, Barbara Pym, Paul Scott, Stanley Middleton. It was easy, I recall Ian McEwan observing in 1985 with the rueful irony of someone not having to share the limelight, to be a young celebrity writer at the end of the seventies, because there was no one else around. I remember the metaphor he used: the horizon was uncluttered.
But not for long. In January of 1980, the beginning of the decade, I read a short story that was good, but, for reasons that must have been persuasive at the time, not good enough to publish, although apparently good enough for me to want to contact the writer and urge him to send us something else, resulting in a series of phone calls – to Norwich, London, Guildford – until finally I reached an unknown Kazuo Ishiguro in a bed-sit in Cardiff; the pay-phone was in the hall.’
This was the beginning of a long relationship – only a few years later Granta would choose Ishiguro as one of the best young authors then writing in Britain for its inaugural Best of Young British Novelists issue. You can read Ishiguro’s story from that issue, ‘Summer after the War’, here. Ishiguro wrote another story for the magazine’s seventeenth issue, Granta 17: While Waiting for a War.
And by the time Granta started putting together its second list of talented young British novelists in 1993, Ishiguro was one of the few certainties that year’s judging panel – which included A.S. Byatt, Salman Rushdie and John Mitchinson alongside Buford – could agree on, despite the fact that he’d already appeared on the original list. They had seen in Ishiguro, and the other writers eventually selected for that issue, an antidote to ‘the word British: a grey, unsatisfactory, bad-weather kind of word, a piece of linguistic compromise’.
Ishiguro’s novels include An Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day (for which he won the Booker Prize in 1989), The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans, Never Let Me Go and, most recently, The Buried Giant. He’s also written four screenplays and a book of short stories, Nocturnes. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1995 for his services to literature.
Asked to describe his project by the British Council, Ishiguro replied: ‘I am a writer who wishes to write international novels. What is an “international” novel? I believe it to be one, quite simply, that contains a vision of life that is of importance to people of varied backgrounds around the world. It may concern characters who jet across continents, but may just as easily be set firmly in one small locality.’