Kazuo Ishiguro (1954-), author of The Remains of the Day, is considered one of the greatest late twentieth and early twenty-first century British authors.
Ishiguro moved to the United Kingdom when he was six from Nagasaki, Japan where he was born. Relocation is a theme in two of Ishiguro's novels, his first, A Pale View of Hills (1982) and also When We Were Orphans (2000). Post-war Nagasaki is central to the first two of Ishiguro's novels. Two of his novels have been made into movies. He has authored four screenplays, numerous short stories, and lyrics for the jazz musician, Stacey Kent. He averages two novels a decade.
A common theme throughout Ishiguro's novels is the unreliability of memory. Themes explored in Ishiguro's first two novels include the changing roles of women and changes in respect and status of elders in post-war Japanese society.
A Pale View of Hills (1982) is narrated in the first person, as are Ishiguro's other novels. The narrator, Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman living alone in England, addresses themes of loss, guilt and responsibility in the course of a discussion with her daughter, Niki, about the recent suicide of her older sister, Keiko. Etsuko reflects on the relationship she had formed with a woman named Sachiko and her daughter, Mariko. It is left open whether Sachiko is a mythical character through whom Etsuko tells her own story, or whether Etsuko compares her story to the analogous experiences of Sachiko. The novel also explores Etsuko's husband's strained relationship with his father, Ogata.
In Ishiguro's second novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986) the central character is Masuji Ono, an aging painter, who ponders his role in post-war Nagasaki life. Ono describes the decadent pre-war era in Japan, and reflects on post-war guilt. Ishiguro's style reveals endearing faults in the narrator in the course of the novel, in this case, refusing to accept responsibility for mistakes of the past. The novel won the Whitbread 1986 Book of the Year Award.
Ishiguro's most celebrated work was The Remains of the Day (1989). The narrator Stevens, a butler for a British aristocratic home in 1956, develops romantic feelings toward the housekeeper Miss Kenton. However he remains unable to reconcile his sense of service with his personal feelings and fails to act on his desire in any way. The novel explores love, aging, memory, small talk, social constraints, loyalty, dignity, politics and relationships. In 1989 it won the Man Booker Prize. It was produced as a film in 1993, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards. It was also made into a BBC Radio play and a musical.
The Unconsoled (1995) is about a concert pianist, Ryder, who arrives in a central European city to perform a concert. He struggles to fulfill his commitments over the course of three days and takes a surrealist trajectory which suggests that he has lost his memory. Without any logical explanation, he meets his estranged wife and child and other figures from his past.
When We Were Orphans (2000), set in the 1930s, describes the journey of the protagonist, Christopher Banks, back to Shanghai where he had lived in the early 1900s. His father, an opium businessman, was captured together with his mother after Christopher had been sent away to live with his aunt in Britain. He learns from an uncle that his mother had insulted Chinese warlord Wang Ku, who captured her to be his concubine, and that his father is dead. Christopher is reunited with his mother and seeks, in vain, confirmation that she had always loved him.
Never Let Me Go (2005) is a science fiction thriller which begins at a fictional boarding school in East Sussex, England. The students are clones created to provide vital organs for non-clones ("originals"). They are taught creativity, but not life skills. The main character, Kathy becomes a "carer" for other donors. Her friends Ruth and Tommy become donors. After ten years, Kathy sees Ruth in hospital after her first donation. Knowing that the next donation will most likely be her last, Ruth suggests to Kathy that they take a trip and they pick up Tommy at his hospital, who shares the news that the school has closed. The novel picks up on the theme of bewilderment and uncertainty explored in The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans, and uses the device of imperfect memory employed in all of the author's books.
In 1995 Ishiguro was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to literature and in 1998, the French accolade, l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.