Kazuo Ishiguro's Craft of Recreating Memory and Forgetfulness
That Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature this year is significant for various reasons. The declaration of Bob Dylan's name as the 2016 Nobel Prize winner in literature had caused much controversy and some people across the world had became not a little concerned about the criteria set by the academy to chose the winner in this category. Judging by the entail response, however, one feels that Ishiguro is the right choice for almost all serious readers and artists. Known as "Ish" to his friends and acquaintances, Ishiguro is loved and admired by many readers and critics the world over. Blending profound insights into history and social awareness with impeccable craftsmanship, Ishiguro is quite unique as a writer. While his focus is on the present, he works through the ambivalent process of making memories, forgetfulness and remembering, followed by a sense of haunting, or of loss. Ishiguro's viewpoint is not negative, but it is indeed complex and thought-provoking. At a time when social unrest, neo-fascism, and racism are on the rise, it indeed feels reassuring for the readers that the Academy chose Ishiguro to be this year's Nobel Laureate.
At the beginning of his career Ishiguro would be asked questions such as, "How typically Japanese were your parents?" or "Why did you move to England?" for the novels he wrote then. But he has moved on from those novels to experimenting with many sub-genres of prose, ranging from memoirs to detective novels; and from science-fiction to magic realism. He is also one of those rare authors who can claim to be both a diasporic and a main stream writer. Little wonder that Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, commended Ishiguro as a writer who, "in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world." Focusing on another interesting aspect of Ishiguro's writing she said, "If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell."
Can a writer as serious as Ishiguro be summarized so easily? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, Danius did not describe Ishiguro in these terms in a facile manner, for she was attempting to explain to a world audience the essence of Ishiguro's greatness. The minute details of human relations and observations that Ishiguro depicts in his work are balanced by the epiphanic realizations his characters have. Indeed, what better way to bring together the artist of "two inches of ivory" and the greatest existentialist author that ever lived than with such finely achieved balance?
After the media got a whiff of the Nobel, a group of journalists accosted Ishiguro at his doorsteps and asked him to talk about the themes of his novels. He blinked repeatedly and looking bewildered, said, "The way countries and nations and communities remember their past, and how often they bury the uncomfortable memories from their past." Unprepared he might have been, yet he was succinct enough to summarize acutely the essence of his fiction, thereby giving us a sense of why he so richly deserved this year's Nobel prize for literature..
Sohana Manzoor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. She is also the Deputy Editor of The Daily Star Literature and Review Pages.