Art And Culture

Nobel Laureate Ishiguro Describes Longing for Imagined Home

Kazuo Ishiguro giving his Nobel speechKazuo Ishiguro giving his Nobel speech

British author Kazuo Ishiguro, 63, is a subtle creator. He won the Nobel Prize in literature this year for the quiet, unknowable dread he imbues in his characters, whose emotions and ideas are often brimming just below consciousness, and barely acknowledged.

But in the Nobel acceptance speech Ishiguro delivered December 7 at the Swedish Academy, he offered an unusual experience for fans of his fiction: a lecture in which he spoke plainly about his creative process and his hopes for his works. The text will be published by Knopf, as a book called ‘My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs’ on Dec. 12, according to the news website of Quartzy (

Ishiguro described important inflection points that informed his creative journey, the first of which happened in 1979, when he was in his twenties. Ishiguro realized he wanted to write about Japan, the country he had moved from to England with his family at age five, despite the fact that he had not been back since.

“Today, the prevailing atmosphere is such that it’s virtually an instinct for an aspiring young writer with a mixed cultural heritage to explore his roots in his work. But that was far from the case then. We were still a few years away from the explosion of multicultural literature in Britain,” He said.

In its narrowest definition, multicultural literature reflects only literature by or about people of color – which is sadly limiting. In its broadest definition, multicultural literature is defined as encompassing the multitude of cultural groups in the United States and the rest of the world; literature about the sociocultural experiences of underrepresented groups.

What eventually became his first novel ‘A Pale View of Hills,’ was an image of Japan he had cobbled together from his memories and the culture his parents upheld in their house in Surrey, southeast England. The writer realized that what he imagined was probably unrecognizable to people living in contemporary Japan.

“By the time I reached my mid-twenties, though I never clearly articulated this at the time, I was coming to realize certain key things. I was starting to accept that my Japan perhaps didn’t much correspond to any place I could go to on a plane; that the way of life of which my parents talked, that I remembered from my early childhood, had largely vanished during the 1960s and 1970s; that in any case, the Japan that existed in my head might always have been an emotional construct put together by a child out of memory, imagination and speculation. And perhaps most significantly, I’d come to realize that with each year I grew older, this Japan of mine - this precious place I’d grown up with - was getting fainter and fainter,” Ishiguro said.

“I’m now sure that it was this feeling, that my Japan was unique and at the same time terribly fragile - something not open to verification from outside - that drove me on to work in that small room in Norfolk,” a small English village with an old water mill and flat farms around it. “What I was doing was getting down on paper everything I’d ever thought about the place, before they faded forever from my mind. It was my wish to re-build my Japan in fiction,” he added.

Ishiguro, it seems, was guided by the same impulse non-Nobel-winning immigrants and displaced people have: to document the past, interview older family members, look at old photos, and write down their memories.

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