Kazuo Ishiguro

Sir Kazuo Ishiguro OBE FRSA FRSL (/kæˈz ˌɪʃɪˈɡʊər, ˈkæzu -/ kaz-OO-oh ISH-ig-OOR-oh, KAZ-oo-oh -; 石黒 一雄 Ishiguro Kazuo, Japanese: [iɕiɡɯɾo kazɯ.o]; born 8 November 1954) is a British novelist, screenwriter, and short-story writer. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and moved to the United Kingdom in 1960 when he was five.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro in Stockholm in December 2017
Native name
石黒 一雄
Born (1954-11-08) 8 November 1954
Nagasaki, Japan
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • screenwriter
  • columnist
  • songwriter
CitizenshipJapan (until 1983)
United Kingdom (since 1983)
Notable works
Notable awards
Lorna MacDougall (m. 1986)
ChildrenNaomi Ishiguro (born 1992)

Ishiguro is one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world. He has received four Man Booker Prize nominations and won the award in 1989 for his novel The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro's 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, was named by Time as the best novel of the year, and was included in the magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.

In 2017, the Swedish Academy awarded Ishiguro the Nobel Prize in Literature, describing him in its citation as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".[1] Ishiguro was knighted in the 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours List.[2]

Early life

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, on 8 November 1954, the son of Shizuo Ishiguro, a physical oceanographer, and his wife Shizuko.[3] At the age of five,[4] Ishiguro and his family (including his two sisters) left Japan and moved to Guildford, Surrey, as his father was invited for research at the National Institute of Oceanography (now the National Oceanography Centre).[3][5][6] He did not return to visit Japan until 1989, nearly 30 years later, when he was a participant in the Japan Foundation Short-Term Visitors Program. In an interview with Kenzaburō Ōe, Ishiguro stated that the Japanese settings of his first two novels were imaginary: "I grew up with a very strong image in my head of this other country, a very important other country to which I had a strong emotional tie… In England I was all the time building up this picture in my head, an imaginary Japan."[4] In an interview with the BBC he said that growing up in a Japanese family in the UK was crucial to his writing, enabling him to see things from a different perspective to that of many of his English peers.[7]

Ishiguro attended Stoughton Primary School and then Woking County Grammar School in Surrey.[3] After finishing school, he took a gap year and travelled through the United States and Canada, all the while writing a journal and sending demo tapes to record companies.[3][8] In 1974, he began studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in English and Philosophy.[3] After spending a year writing fiction, he resumed his studies at the University of East Anglia where he studied with Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter, and gained a Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 1980.[3][5] His thesis became his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, published in 1982.[9] He became a UK citizen in 1983.[10]

Literary career

Ishiguro set his first two novels in Japan; however, in several interviews, he said that he has little familiarity with Japanese writing and that his works bear little resemblance to Japanese fiction.[11] In an interview in 1989, when discussing his Japanese heritage and its influence on his upbringing, he stated, "I'm not entirely like English people because I've been brought up by Japanese parents in a Japanese-speaking home. My parents (...) felt responsible for keeping me in touch with Japanese values. I do have a distinct background. I think differently, my perspectives are slightly different."[12] When asked about his identity, he said,

People are not two-thirds one thing and the remainder something else. Temperament, personality, or outlook don't divide quite like that. The bits don't separate clearly. You end up a funny homogeneous mixture. This is something that will become more common in the latter part of the century—people with mixed cultural backgrounds, and mixed racial backgrounds. That's the way the world is going.[12]

In a 1990 interview, Ishiguro said, "If I wrote under a pseudonym and got somebody else to pose for my jacket photographs, I'm sure nobody would think of saying, 'This guy reminds me of that Japanese writer.'"[11] Although some Japanese writers have had a distant influence on his writing—Jun'ichirō Tanizaki is the one he most frequently cites—Ishiguro has said that Japanese films, especially those of Yasujirō Ozu and Mikio Naruse, have been a more significant influence.[13]

Some of Ishiguro's novels are set in the past. Never Let Me Go has science fiction qualities and a futuristic tone; however, it is set in the 1980s and 1990s, and thus takes place in a very similar parallel world. His fourth novel, The Unconsoled, takes place in an unnamed Central European city. The Remains of the Day is set in the large country house of an English lord in the period surrounding World War II.[14]

An Artist of the Floating World is set in an unnamed Japanese city during the period of reconstruction following Japan's surrender in 1945. The narrator is forced to come to terms with his part in World War II. He finds himself blamed by the new generation who accuse him of being part of Japan's misguided foreign policy and is forced to confront the ideals of the modern times as represented by his grandson. Ishiguro said of his choice of time period, "I tend to be attracted to pre-war and postwar settings because I'm interested in this business of values and ideals being tested, and people having to face up to the notion that their ideals weren't quite what they thought they were before the test came."[12]

With the exception of The Buried Giant, Ishiguro's novels are written in the first-person narrative style.[15]

Ishiguro's novels often end without resolution. The issues his characters confront are buried in the past and remain unresolved. Thus Ishiguro ends many of his novels on a note of melancholic resignation. His characters accept their past and who they have become, typically discovering that this realisation brings comfort and an ending to mental anguish. This can be seen as a literary reflection on the Japanese idea of mono no aware. Ishiguro counts Dostoyevsky and Proust amongst his influences. His works have also been compared to Salman Rushdie, Jane Austen, and Henry James, though Ishiguro himself rejects these comparisons.[16]

In 2017, Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, because "in novels of great emotional force, [he] has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".[1] In response to receiving the award, Ishiguro stated:

It's a magnificent honour, mainly because it means that I'm in the footsteps of the greatest authors that have lived, so that's a terrific commendation. The world is in a very uncertain moment and I would hope all the Nobel Prizes would be a force for something positive in the world as it is at the moment. I'll be deeply moved if I could in some way be part of some sort of climate this year in contributing to some sort of positive atmosphere at a very uncertain time.[9]

In an interview after the announcement of the Nobel Prize, Ishiguro said "I've always said throughout my career that although I've grown up in this country and I'm educated in this country, that a large part of my way of looking at the world, my artistic approach, is Japanese, because I was brought up by Japanese parents, speaking in Japanese" and "I have always looked at the world through my parents' eyes."[17][18]

On 7 February 2019, Ishiguro received a knighthood for services to literature.[19]

Musical work

Ishiguro has co-written several songs for the jazz singer Stacey Kent with saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, Kent's husband. Ishiguro contributed lyrics to Kent's 2007 Grammy-nominated album Breakfast on the Morning Tram,[20] including its title track, her 2011 album, Dreamer in Concert, her 2013 album The Changing Lights,[21] and her 2017 album, I Know I Dream. Ishiguro also wrote the liner notes to Kent's 2003 album, In Love Again.[22] Ishiguro first met Kent after he chose her recording of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" as one of his Desert Island Discs in 2002 and Kent subsequently asked him to write for her.

Ishiguro has said of his lyric writing that "with an intimate, confiding, first-person song, the meaning must not be self-sufficient on the page. It has to be oblique, sometimes you have to read between the lines" and that this realisation has had an "enormous influence" on his fiction writing.[23]

Personal life

Ishiguro has been married to Lorna MacDougall, a social worker, since 1986.[24] They met at the West London Cyrenians homelessness charity in Notting Hill, where Ishiguro was working as a residential resettlement worker. The couple live in London with their daughter Naomi.[25]

Ishiguro wrote in an opinion piece "that the UK is now very likely to cease to exist" as a result of the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum.[26]

He describes himself as a "serious cinephile" and "great admirer of Bob Dylan",[27] a previous recipient of the Nobel Literature prize.


Except for A Pale View of Hills and The Buried Giant, all of Ishiguro's novels and his short story collection have been shortlisted for major awards.[5] Most significantly, An Artist of the Floating World, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go were all short-listed for the Booker Prize. A leaked account of a judging committee's meeting revealed that the committee found itself deciding between Never Let Me Go and John Banville's The Sea before awarding the prize to the latter.[33][34]



Short-story collections


Short fiction

  • "A Strange and Sometimes Sadness", "Waiting for J" and "Getting Poisoned" (in Introduction 7: Stories by New Writers, 1981)[35]
  • "A Family Supper" (in Firebird 2: Writing Today, 1983)[35]
  • "Summer After the War" (in Granta 7, 1983)[37][35]
  • "October 1948" (in Granta 17, 1985)[38][35]
  • "A Village After Dark" (in The New Yorker, May 21, 2001)[39][35]


  • "The Ice Hotel"; "I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again"; "Breakfast on the Morning Tram", and "So Romantic"; Jim Tomlinson / Kazuo Ishiguro, on Stacey Kent's 2007 Grammy-nominated album, Breakfast on the Morning Tram.[20]
  • "Postcard Lovers"; Tomlinson / Ishiguro, on Kent's album Dreamer in Concert (2011).
  • "The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain"; "Waiter, Oh Waiter", and "The Changing Lights"; Tomlinson / Ishiguro, on Kent's album The Changing Lights (2013).[21]
  • "Bullet Train"; "The Changing Lights", and "The Ice Hotel"; Tomlinson / Ishiguro, on Kent's album I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions (2017).
  • "The Ice Hotel"; Tomlinson / Ishiguro – Quatuor Ébène, featuring Stacey Kent, on the album Brazil (2013).


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 – Press Release". Nobel Prize. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  2. "Birthday Honours List—United Kingdom". thegazette.co.uk. 8 June 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  3. Lewis, Barry (2000). Kazuo Ishiguro. Manchester University Press.
  4. Oe, Kenzaburo (1991). "The Novelist in Today's World: A Conversation". boundary 2. 18 (3): 110.
  5. "Kazuo Ishiguro". British Council. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  6. "Modelling the oceans". Science Museum Group. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  7. "Kazuo Ishiguro keeps calm amid Nobel Prize frenzy". BBC. 6 October 2017.
  8. "Sir Kazuo Ishiguro Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  9. "Kazuo Ishiguro: Nobel Literature Prize is 'a magnificent honour'". BBC News. 5 October 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  10. Wroe, Nicholas (19 February 2005). "Profile: Kazuo Ishiguro". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  11. Vorda, Allan; Herzinger, Kim (1994). "Stuck on the Margins: An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro". Face to Face: Interviews with Contemporary Novelists. Rice University Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-8926-3323-9.
  12. Swift, Graham (Fall 1989). "Kazuo Ishiguro". BOMB. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  13. Mason, Gregory (1989). "An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro". Contemporary Literature. 30 (3): 336. doi:10.2307/1208408. JSTOR 1208408.
  14. Beech, Peter (7 January 2016). "The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – a subtle masterpiece of quiet desperation". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  15. Rushdie, Salman (15 August 2014). "Salman Rushdie on Kazuo Ishiguro: His legendary novel The Remains of the Day resurges". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  16. "Kazuo Ishiguro". The Guardian. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  17. Johnson, Simon; Pawlak, Justyna (5 October 2017). "Mixing Kafka with Jane Austen: Ishiguro wins literature Nobel". Reuters.
  18. "Nobel winner Kazuo Ishiguro: Award brings people together on international level". Evening Times. 5 October 2017.
  19. "Kazuo Ishiguro: Knighthood part of 'big love affair with Britain'". The Irish Times. 7 February 2019.
  20. Breakfast on the Morning Tram at AllMusic
  21. The Changing Lights at AllMusic
  22. "Why 'Breakfast on the Morning Tram'?". StaceyKent.com. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  23. Kellaway, Kate (15 March 2015). "Kazuo Ishiguro: I used to see myself as a musician. But really, I'm one of those people with corduroy jackets and elbow patches". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  24. "My friend Kazuo Ishiguro: 'an artist without ego, with deeply held beliefs'". The Guardian. 8 October 2017.
  25. Wroe, Nicholas (19 February 2005). "Living Memories: Kazuo Ishiguro". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  26. Ishiguro, Kazuo (1 July 2016). "Kazuo Ishiguro on his fears for Britain after Brexit". Financial Times. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  27. "Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel laureate for these muddled times". The Economist. 5 October 2017.
  28. "Granta 7: Best of Young British Novelists". Archived from the original on 18 May 2008. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  29. "Granta 43: Best of Young British Novelists 2". Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  30. "Time magazine's greatest English novels". The Times. 5 January 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  31. "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". The Times. London. 5 January 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  32. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  33. Gekoski, Rick (12 October 2005). "At last, the best Booker book won". The Times. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  34. Gekoski, Rick (16 October 2005). "It's the critics at Sea". The Age. Retrieved 28 June 2010. In the end, it came down to a debate between The Sea and Never Let Me Go.
  35. "Biobibliographical notes" (PDF). Nobel Prize. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  36. Furness, Hannah (4 October 2014). "Kazuo Ishiguro: My wife thought first draft of The Buried Giant was rubbish". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  37. Ishiguro, Kazuo (1 March 1983). "Summer after the War". Granta Magazine. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  38. Ishiguro, Kazuo (1 September 1985). "October, 1948". Granta Magazine. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  39. Ishiguro, Kazuo (14 May 2001). "A Village After Dark". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
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