Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro

Past Event: Monday, October 16, 1995

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Literary Arts

In 1982, Ishiguro published his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, which won the Winifred Holtby Prize. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was based on the two cultures of his childhood. The Remains of the Day won the 1989 Booker Prize.

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved with his family temporarily to England in 1960 for his father’s job. The family hoped to return to Japan, so his parents spoke in Japanese and supplemented his education with materials from Japan. However, they ended up settling in a middle class neighborhood south of London where Ishiguro experienced a typical middle class British upbringing. He studied literature and philosophy at the University of Kent and hoped to become a singer-songwriter. At age 25, after travelling, singing in pubs, odd jobs, and social work, Ishiguro went to the University of East Anglia to complete a Creative Masters program. He began to write fiction to put down on paper his early memories of Japan.

Ishiguro lives in London.

Excerpt from When We Were Orphans (2001)
It was the summer of 1923, the summer I came down from Cambridge, when despite my aunt’s wishes that I return to Shropshire, I decided my future lay in the capital and took up a small flat at Number 14b Bedford Gardens in Kensington. I remember it now as the most wonderful of summers. After years of being surrounded by fellows, both at school and at Cambridge, I took great pleasure in my own company. I enjoyed the London parks, the quiet of the Reading Room at the British Museum; I indulged entire afternoons strolling the streets of Kensington, outlining to myself plans for my future, pausing once in a while to admire how here in England, even in the midst of such a great city, creepers and ivy are to be found clinging to the fronts of fine houses.

It was on one such leisurely walk that I encountered quite by chance an old schoolfriend, James Osbourne, and discovering him to be a neighbour, suggested he call on me when he was next passing. Although at that point I had yet to receive a single visitor in my rooms, I issued my invitation with confidence, having chosen the premises with some care. The rent was not high, but my landlady had furnished the place in a tasteful manner that evoked an unhurried Victorian past; the drawing room, which received plenty of sun throughout the first half of the day, contained an ageing sofa as well as two snug armchairs, an antique sideboard and an oak bookcase filled with crumbling encyclopaedias—all of which I was convinced would win the approval of any visitor. Moreover, almost immediately upon taking the rooms, I had walked over to Knightsbridge and acquired there a Queen Anne tea service, several packets of fine teas, and a large tin of biscuits. So when Osbourne did happen along one morning a few days later, I was able to serve out the refreshments with an assurance that never once permitted him to suppose he was my first guest.

For the first fifteen minutes or so, Osbourne moved restlessly around my drawing room, complimenting me on the premises, examining this and that, looking regularly out of the windows to exclaim at whatever was going on below. Eventually he flopped down into the sofa, and we were able to exchange news — our own and that of old schoolfriends. I remember we spent a little time discussing the activities of the workers’ unions, before embarking on a long and enjoyable debate on German philosophy, which enabled us to display to one another the intellectual prowess we each had gained at our respective universities. Then Osbourne rose and began his pacing again, pronouncing as he did so upon his various plans for the future.

Selected Work
When We Were Orphans (2001)
The Unconsoled (1995)
The Remains of the Day (1989)
An Artist of the Floating World (1986)
A Pale View of Hills (1982)

Links
The Atlantic: Interview with Ishiguro
Reading group guide for The Unconsoled
Salon.com review of When We Were Orphans