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Kazuo Ishiguro | Biography


Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist of Japanese descent. Born on November 8, 1954, in Nagasaki, Japan, Ishiguro and his family emigrated to Britain in 1960 when his father took a research position at the National Institute of Oceanography. Ishiguro grew up in Guildford—a large town in southeast England—and attended a grammar school for boys in Surrey. Leaving school in 1973, he took a year off to hitchhike around the United States and then became a grouse beater—someone who searches for game birds such as grouse and tries to drive them toward hunters using sticks, flags, and other devices—for the Queen Mother at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Beginning in 1974 he attended the University of Kent to study English and Philosophy, though also taking time to be a community worker in Glasgow in 1976. After graduating, he was employed for a time in London as a social worker.

Ishiguro went on to study creative writing at the University of East Anglia. He began writing full time following the success of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, published in 1982.

A Pale View of Hills is a first-person narrative of a Japanese widow living in England. As she dwells on the recent suicide of her daughter, the past and present merge and she finds herself reliving her life in post-World War II Nagasaki. Within the story, a subplot focuses on an old teacher forced to rethink the values on which he has built his life. This became the seed for the character of Stevens, the butler in The Remains of the Day.

Ishiguro's next novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), explored the theme of a wasted life in terms of a career. Seeking to extend this exploration into the personal arena, Ishiguro developed and wrote The Remains of the Day (1989). The novel tells of an aging butler who confronts disillusionment as he recalls his life spent in service, but who also struggles with more personal regret for the lost chance at love.

Ishiguro's first two novels reflected on life and culture in post-World War II Japan. However, for The Remains of the Day, he wanted to write for an international audience. To this purpose he chose an iconic British character known throughout the world: the English butler.

The theme of guilt and regret plays out in the butler Stevens's lost chance for love in The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro's artistic decision to allow the butler's rigid denial of heartfelt emotion to eventually crack with regret came from a ballad called "Ruby's Arms," sung by Tom Waits. In the song a soldier fighting his emotions leaves his lover sleeping in the early hours of the morning. He nearly makes it to the train that will carry him away before overwhelming sadness breaks through his tough-guy defenses. Guided by this song, Ishiguro allows the butler Stevens, so long in denial of his feelings for Miss Kenton, to break down at the end and weep for what might have been.

The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize for Fiction (1989), a yearly prize dedicated to the best novel published in the United Kingdom and written in English. The novel was adapted to film in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson and was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

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