Kazuo Ishiguro Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Kazuo Ishiguro (ihsh-ih-gew-roh), a renowned British novelist, is the son of Shizuo and Shizuko (née Michida) Ishiguro. On May 9, 1986, he married Lorna Anne MacDougall. Their daughter, Naomi, was born in 1992.

A key event in Ishiguro’s life was accompanying his parents in 1960 to England, where his father was employed by the British government as an oceanographer. Although the family had left Japan expecting to return in a year or two, they remained in England, and Ishiguro did not return to Japan until 1989, when he was thirty-five. He graduated from the University of Kent in 1978 with an honors degree in English and philosophy and then completed an M.A. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia.

Ishiguro’s distinguished reputation as a major novelist rests on a reasonably small literary output—five novels in two decades. The novels continue to garner prizes and recognitions: his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, received the Winifred Holtby Award of the Royal Society of Literature; An Artist of the Floating World received the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for 1986; The Remains of the Day was awarded the Booker Prize for 1989, and When We Were Orphans was short-listed for the Booker in 2000.

Ishiguro’s novels are heavily invested in the past. Typically, they involve first-person narrators attempting to establish the past, despite the unreliability of memory in confronting past errors and sins of omission. A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World are major accomplishments in their representation of a culture for which Ishiguro’s parents were his only resources. The first novel focuses on a Japanese mother, Etsuko, living in England, telling a story in which she explores her memory for the causes of her daughter’s suicide. The second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, is set in postwar Japan. Its narrator, Masuji Ono, is a painter confronting his complicity in the imperialist regime he represented as an official artist.

Although both novels were well received, it was The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro’s third novel, that launched him into international fame, later enhanced by the 1993 film adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins. Concerned that he was being pigeonholed as the author of “Japanese novels,” Ishiguro had made a radical break with his earlier literary production to write The Remains of the Day, a novel he described as “more English than English.” Its narrator, Stevens, is a butler adjusting to the American sense of humor of his new master, Farraday. Stevens is struggling with the notoriety of his former master, Darlington, whose Nazi sympathies before World War II brought him shame and an early death after the war. The narrative is Stevens’s effort to explain and vindicate Darlington. Also, Stevens wants to establish himself as a “great” butler. To qualify, he must serve a “great” master, committed to the betterment of humanity; he must serve that master with “grace under pressure.” Stevens offers two episodes in which he passed that test. During two international conferences, he maintained his butler’s aplomb, even though in one episode his father was dying upstairs and in the other the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, whom he loves, warned him that she was leaving that evening to accept a proposal of marriage. Once again, Ishiguro is working with issues of unreliable memory, especially in dealing with guilt and shame.

Despite his efforts to distance himself in The Remains of the Day from the “Japanese” elements of his first two novels, reviewers commented on the Japanese rendering of the English countryside or the values of Stevens being similar to “prominent aspects of the Japanese collective psyche,” as David Gurewich put it. Readers who might know little more about Japanese literature than haiku would also be struck by the compression and self-restraint of the first three novels, whether “Japanese” or “English.” The fourth novel, The...

(The entire section is 1,939 words.)