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Kazuo Ishiguro

The books Never Let Me Go (2005), Klara and the Sun (2021)and The Remains of the Day (1989) are just some of the many well-known books written by Kazuo Ishiguro. Kazuo Ishiguro's books include themes of life, humanity and memory no matter the genre. He even stated that he ‘writes the same book over and over again.’ 1

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Kazuo Ishiguro

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The books Never Let Me Go (2005), Klara and the Sun (2021), and The Remains of the Day (1989) are just some of the many well-known books written by Kazuo Ishiguro. Kazuo Ishiguro's books include themes of life, humanity and memory no matter the genre. He even stated that he ‘writes the same book over and over again.’ 1

Each of Ishiguro's novels and short stories explores human emotions and is influenced by his own life, whether it be the destruction and reconstruction of Nagasaki in Japan (the place of his birth) or his love for music and songwriting. Let's take a closer look at Ishiguro's biography and literary works.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Portrait, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Kazuo Ishiguro is known for his novels Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day.

Kazuo Ishiguro biography

Kazuo Ishiguro's Biography
Birth:8th November 1954
Age:68 years
Father:Shizuo Ishiguro
Mother:Shizuko Ishiguro
Spouse/Partners:Lorna MacDougall (1986 - present)
Children:1
Famous Works:
  • Never Let Me Go
  • The Remains of the Day
  • Klara and the Sun
  • When We Were Orphans
Nationality:Japanese-British
Literary Period:Postmodernism

On 8th November 1954, Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in Japan. He lived in a traditional Japanese house complete with sliding screens and tatami mats and decorated with heirlooms, samurai swords and banners. Three generations lived in Kazuo Ishiguro’s home with his grandfather being the head of the family.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s grandfather had spent time in Shanghai during the development of the textile machinery company ‘Toyota’. Kazuo Ishiguro’s father was born in Shanghai in 1920. His mother was living in Nagasaki during the time the US government dropped the atomic bomb in August 1945.

In 1960, Kazuo Ishiguro and his family left Japan and moved to Britain in Surrey as his father, Shizuo Ishiguro, was invited by the British Government to work in the National Institute of Oceanography as a research oceanographer. Initially, they believed they would stay in Britain for just two years but then lived there permanently. Kazuo Ishiguro went to a local school at first, he then attended a grammar school called Woking County Grammar School and then went to the University of Kent.

Fun fact: During his time as a research oceanographer, Shizuo Ishiguro invented the storm surge machine which became part of an exhibition in the Science Museum in London.

As a child, Kazuo Ishiguro had piano lessons and then later taught himself how to play the guitar. As a teenager, Kazuo Ishiguro developed a great interest in music and writing songs. He was inspired by the music of singers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and also enjoyed traditional folk songs from America, Ireland and Scotland. He even performed in local venues along with his friends who were also passionate about music.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s first attempt at writing was after he had spent three months travelling in the USA and Canada; he tried to write two fictional short stories based on his time in North America.

In 1974, Ishiguro began studying English Literature and Philosophy at the University of Kent at Canterbury and he became greatly inspired by the writing of Proust and Kafka. By the end of his BA course, he was interested in writers such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and Plato. Ishiguro was still writing fiction during his degree including a novel in 1977 and was also writing songs to perform in folk clubs.

Kazuo Ishiguro met his wife, Lorna MacDougall, in 1979 when he volunteered in Notting Hill in London for a charity organisation called West London Cyrenians that was fighting to end homelessness. Kazuo Ishiguro’s time here influenced his writing in Never Let Me Go (2005) which is a dystopian novel about the exploitation of children.

After he had published A Pale View of Hills in 1982 through Faber and Faber (winning the award for the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and making him the youngest writer of GRANTA magazine's ’20 Best Young British Novelists’ promotion in 1983, amongst many other achievements), Kazuo Ishiguro became a full-time writer in the autumn of 1983.

Kazuo Ishiguro, kazuo ishiguro books, StudySmarter

Fig 2 - Though considered an English Novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan.

Kazuo Ishiguro facts

Kazuo Ishiguro stated:

I am a writer who wishes to write international novels. What is an 'international' novel? I believe it to be one, quite simply, that contains a vision of life that is of importance to people of varied backgrounds around the world. It may concern characters who jet across continents, but may just as easily be set firmly in one small locality. 2

His writing captures real lives and the emotions that people feel. For example, in the quote below from his book An Artist of The Floating World, the narrator (an elderly painter) is looking back at his life and how he lived his life. The use of the word ‘hesitation’ makes it seem like it is not just a bridge but a place where one goes to feel emotions.

Furthermore, Kazuo Ishiguro’s passion for music and lyric-writing did not end in his teenage years. He worked as a lyricist for Stacey Kent, a jazz singer, in collaboration with Jim Tomlinson with his songs being featured in various of Kent’s albums such as Breakfast on The Morning Tram (2007) and I Know I Dream (2017).

Ishiguro said that the disciplines that he practices in song writing have translated into his prose writing. For example, when he is writing prose he prefers to write in the first person and leave things unsaid.

In 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro received the Nobel Prize and is now best known for his novels The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Kazuo Ishiguro books

Ishiguro has written 9 books. 8 of which are novels and 1 is a short story collection.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Books, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Some of Kazuo Ishiguro's works were displayed in the 2017 Stockholm Stock Exchange

Introduction Seven: Stories by New Writers (1981)

In 1979, while doing a master's in Creative writing at the University of East Anglia Ishiguro started to publish his short stories in small-scale literary magazines. He was then accepted by Faber and Faber, a book publishing company that published three of his stories in a book called Faber Introductions Seven: Stories By New Writers (1981).

The editor at Faber, Robert McCrum, liked his writing so much that he gave Ishiguro a £1,000 advance to turn his master’s thesis story into a novel. Ishiguro accepted and began working on his novel which eventually became A Pale View of Hills.

A Pale View of Hills (1982)

In this novel, the story follows a Japanese woman living in England trying to get over her daughter’s suicide and thinking about her life previously in Japan. It includes themes on the destruction of Nagasaki and then its reconstruction.

This novel was so popular it was published in many foreign languages and was also what allowed Kazuo Ishiguro to become a full-time writer.

An Artist of the Floating World (1986)

An Artist of the Floating World is the recounting of Masuji Ono’s life post World War II. He is an artist thinking about his position in supporting the militarist government before the war and the consequences because of it. A sense of tension pervades the novel as the narrator tries to justify his actions in the past.

An Artist of the Floating World won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and put Kazuo Ishiguro more at the forefront of the literary world.

The Remains of the Day (1989)

When Ishiguro first started writing The Remains of the Day, he decided he wanted to write a novel based in Britain. To prepare for the novel, he researched the history of twentieth-century Britain, and the lives of the aristocracy and servants, and was especially interested in very conservative nobles even the ones who supported Nazi Germany and didn’t want Britain to enter into World War II. After this, he formulated the main idea for The Remains of the Day and within four weeks he had written the first draft.

It is written in the first person from the perspective of Mr Stevens who was a butler for Lord Darlington but is now retired. He is proud of working for Lord Darlington and greatly admires him despite Lord Darlington’s ill-judged involvement in the political world. It is a story about regret as Mr Stevens sacrifices his final chance for love and independence because of his lack of understanding of his emotions and his devotion to his master.

The Remains of the Day became an international best-seller and was later adapted into a film with it being nominated for eight Oscars.

The Unconsoled (1995)

The Unconsoled is a form of stream-of-consciousness prose which captures the thoughts of a concert pianist as he travels through a Central European country (not named) to perform in his concert.

However, as he has several appointments to attend and many promises to keep, he becomes tangled in a struggle to reach his commitments and has frustration at not being in control of his life.

Stream-of-consciousness is a style of writing that aims to present a character’s thoughts naturally and fluidly. An example of it is an interior monologue.

When We Were Orphans (2000)

When We Were Orphans follows the structure of a detective story. Christopher Banks lived in the Shanghai International settlement when he was a child until his mother and father disappeared when he was only ten years old.

Christopher Banks is now a private detective and the plot follows him investigating his parents' disappearance.

Never Let Me Go (2005)

Never Let Me Go is a dystopian science fiction novel that centres on the lives of human clones of children in a boarding school who are raised with the objective of harvesting their organs for transplant.

Never Let Me Go is one of Ishiguro's most popular books. It explores universal themes of identity and friendship. It also raises important questions on morality: How far is a society willing to go for the sake of science and medicine? What does being human mean?

The Buried Giant (2015)

The Buried Giant is a fantasy depiction of Britain during the Dark Ages. It follows the life of an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, who live in a post-Arthurian England where no one can keep their long-term memories. Axl and Beatrice somehow remember that they might have had a son previously so they travel to a neighbouring village to look for him.

The main theme in the novel is memory.

Klara and the Sun (2021)

In this novel, readers are presented with the perspective of an ‘Artificial Friend,’ a companion robot who has artificial intelligence and is trying to understand human society.

It starts with the robot Klara waiting to be purchased in a store and then follows her thoughts when she is taken home by the human girl Josie and her mother. The novel makes readers question how we define humanity and human nature, and what makes someone human.

Kazuo Ishiguro's short stories

Ishiguro is well-known for his novels but he also writes short stories.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (2009)

This is Ishiguro’s first short story collection with four of the five stories including musicians and the fifth depicting a couple united and separated due to their love of a song. The events of the first story take place mostly at night and in the rest of the stories nighttime plays a significant role.

The nightfall is metaphorical of the lack of hope in the youth and the darkness of age and it's set against characters who still have hope and great aspirations to emphasise the metaphor.

Kazuo Ishiguro - Key takeaways

  • Kazuo Ishiguro was born on November 8th 1954 in Nagasaki in Japan.
  • In 1960, Kazuo Ishiguro and his family left Japan and moved to Britain in Surrey. Initially, they believed they would stay in Britain for just two years but then lived there permanently.
  • After he had published A Pale View of Hills in 1982, Kazuo Ishiguro became a full-time writer of novels and short stories.
  • His most famous works include The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let Me Go (2005).
  • Recurring themes in Ishiguro's works are humanity, memory, identity and music.

1. 'Author Study: Kazuo Ishiguro Curated by Kelly Wu '20,' Concordia International School Shanghai (2020)

2. 'Kazuo Ishiguro,' British Council (2017)


References

  1. Fig. 1 - Kazuo Ishiguro in Stockholm (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kazuo_Ishiguro_in_Stockholm_2017_03.jpg) by Frankie Fouganthin (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:FrankieF) is licensed by CC BY- SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 3 - Kazuo Ishiguro in 2017 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kazuo_Ishiguro_in_2017_07.jpg) by Frankie Fouganthin (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:FrankieF) is licensed by CC BY- SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. He is most well-known for his novels The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let me Go (2005).

Kazuo Ishiguro lives in London.

Kazuo Ishiguro can speak very little Japanese.

Kazuo Ishiguro is known for his novels The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let me Go (2005).

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan and moved to Britain when he was very young. Ishiguro is a Japanese-born English novelist.

What career has Ishiguro had in the past and why is it relevant?

Ishiguro has worked as a social worker at a homeless shelter. This job that involves caring for people is very similar to the job that Kathy has as a ‘carer’ in the novel.

How has the idea for Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go evolved over time?

Ishiguro actually started the novel with a completely different idea. It was initially about singers trying to achieve success on Broadway in the 1950s, but Ishiguro changed to the idea about a group of strange students living alone in the countryside. This shift in ideas then evolved into the novel we have today.

What sort of genre is Never Let Me Go?


Never Let Me Go combines both elements of the dystopian and science fiction genre alongside counterfactual historical. The society that Ishiguro proposes is inescapable for the clones, and those that have tried resisting like Madame and others have surrendered to it, making it very dystopian. It has science-fiction elements because of the fact that cloning of humans and complete organ transplants are possible (when they weren’t). The counterfactual historical genre makes itself evident in the way that it is set in an alternative version of the 1990s.

What influences Ishiguro as a writer?


Ishiguro admits to being heavily influenced by cinema, because he spent much of his childhood watching films rather than reading.

What writer do many people draw parallels to with Ishiguro?


Many people parallel Ishiguro’s novels to those of Philip K. Dick. Never Let Me Go, for example, seems to have similarities to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Man in the High Castle. However, Ishiguro has never directly read any of the influential writer’s works.

What is the relevance of genetics to the novel?


Genetics is a study that was rapidly evolving in the 20th century. It’s history before Ishiguro’s novel included successes with stem cell research, DNA structure, the Human Genome Project and even successful cloning cases. This study provided a basis for Ishiguro’s sci-fi background to the novel.

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