Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kazuo Ishiguro Is Awarded Nobel Prize In Literature


This year's Nobel Prize for literature goes to a Japanese-born British writer who is best known for his 1989 novel "The Remains Of The Day." The movie adaptation starred Anthony Hopkins as a deeply repressed butler who can't handle his feelings for a housekeeper played by Emma Thompson.


EMMA THOMPSON: (As Miss Kenton) Can it be that our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and he cannot trust himself?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As James Stevens) You know what I'm doing, Miss Kenton? I'm placing my thoughts elsewhere while you chatter away.

SIEGEL: The Swedish Academy said Kazuo Ishiguro's writing uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world. NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Kazuo Ishiguro was not to the manor born.


KAZUO ISHIGURO: I've never met an English butler, actually.

ULABY: That's Ishiguro on WHYY's Fresh Air back in 1995. After the book came out, though, he said he did correspond with some of them. He moved to England from Japan when he was 5. Ishiguro's work is often about memory, myth and nostalgia. And politically, he says, most of us are kind of like butlers.


ISHIGURO: We are very far away from where the big decisions are made. And yet although we live in a democracy and we're supposed to be in charge, in practice what we end up doing is we end up doing our little jobs to the best of our ability and just kind of offer up our little contribution, hoping that the organization we work for, the boss we work for, the cause we work for is a good one.

ULABY: Before he became a best-selling author Ishiguro was a social worker helping homeless people, and for a while he wanted to be a musician. His first two novels were set in Japan even though at that point he had not been back. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki less than a decade after it was bombed by the United States. He says the family tended to talk about it indirectly.


ISHIGURO: That was the building that was built after the atomic bomb or that bridge used to be there until the atomic bomb. And occasionally somebody would be talking about some person who disappeared.

ULABY: In a way that informed Ishiguro's next best-seller, "Never Let Me Go," also made into a film.


SALLY HAWKINS: (As Miss Lucy) None of you will go to America. None of you will work in supermarkets. None of you will do anything except live the life that has already been set out for you.

ULABY: The novel is about cloned children. They're bred for their organs and live passively in a boarding school until their bodies are harvested. Ishiguro wanted to create a world where genetic engineering is as dangerous as nuclear power. And as he told NPR in 2010, he wanted to explore self-deception and how you make peace with a life beyond your control.


ISHIGURO: What interests me is the surprising, enormous extent to which most people accept the fate that's been given to them and find some dignity.

ULABY: Ishiguro, who's 62, is part of a generation of Anglophone authors who include Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie and Michael Ondaatje. All have been published by Sonny Mehta. The editor-in-chief of Knopf woke up today to the news of Ishiguro's win.

SONNY MEHTA: It was unexpected but hugely deserved.

ULABY: Mehta's company has ordered up 200,000 copies of Ishiguro's novels, including his most recent, "Buried Giant." He's also delighted, he says, because Ishiguro is such a sweetheart.

MEHTA: He's absolutely the most charming guy you could hope to meet. And reading him is like meeting him.

ULABY: Kazuo Ishiguro has written seven novels, a book of short stories, a handful of screenplays and lyrics for more than a hundred songs. He's said he sees his lyrics as far more autobiographical than his fiction - that is, his Nobel Prize-winning fiction. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


STACEY KENT: (Singing) So here you are in this city with a shattered heart it seems, though when you arrived you thought you'd have... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.