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Author Study: Kazuo Ishiguro Curated by Kelly Wu '20

Welcome! Explore this LibGuide to learn about author Kazuo Ishiguro.


Historical Context: The World Wars

Both Ishiguro's mother and father were significantly impacted by the two world wars. Ishiguro's father was born in Shanghai, China in 1920, and he remained in Shanghai throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War. His father's experience is reflected in Ishiguro's novel When We Were Orphans, which took place in Shanghai, China between the 1930s and 40s. Ishiguro's mother, on the other hand, survived the 1945 Nagasaki atomic bomb, which became the topic he chose to explore in his first novel A Pale View of Hills.

In addition to his parents' experiences, Ishiguro himself grew up in a post-war environment. Despite not having much memory of his time in Japan, having spent his early childhood in Nagasaki after the atomic bomb, Ishiguro was able to formulate his own version of Japan at an early age. That Japan, however, was quickly lost, as the country rapidly developed in recovery from the war, with most of its social values fundamentally changing.

Furthermore, Ishiguro grew up in post-war England, in a country that also underwent drastic change as it rebuilt itself after the war. Due to Ishiguro's exposure to post-war environments, the concept of social change due to political upheaval is a reoccurring theme in his works.

The Japanese army blowing up a railway in the Manchurian Incident of September 18, 1931.The atomic bomb was dropped at 11:02 AM August 9th, 1945 in Nagasaki, Japan. An estimated 39,000 people were killed outright by the bombing a further 25,000 were injured.

Ishiguro's novels in Japan.

Ishiguro was named an honorary citizen by the prefecture and city of Nagasaki, his place of birth.

Cultural Context: A Young Japanese boy in England

Ishiguro's upbringing had notable impacts on his literary career. After his family moved to England in 1959, Ishiguro's parents believed that they were moving back to Japan the next year. As a result, his parents ensured that he was sufficiently exposed to Japanese culture. He spoke Japanese at home, read a variety of Japanese picture books, and received care packages from his grandparents in Japan. In contrast to the Japanese-based upbringing in his household, Ishiguro was just another middle-class English school boy in the outside world. These circumstances resulted in the international outlook Ishiguro has in his writing. 

"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."

Political Context: Brexit

This is a very weird time in the world, we've sort of lost faith in our political system, we've lost faith in our leaders, we're not quite sure of our values, and I just hope that my winning the Nobel prize contributes something that engenders good will and peace."

Ishiguro has always been very vocal about his views on nationalism, particularly about Brexit - the United Kingdom's move to leave the European Union. He has written multiple essays such as one published in the Financial Times expressing his dissatisfaction and concerns for the xenophobic and nationalistic trends in the world today. Ishiguro has always been passionate about building acceptance, unity, and diversity in the world. He often emphasizes the need to “unite a sharply divided, bewildered, anxious, leaderless nation around its essentially decent heart.”  

As mentioned before, Ishiguro "wishes to write international novels", and that, in addition to his background, is also driven by his belief that writers have a role in amending the great flaws of the world, as he said in his Nobel Lecture: "Good writing and good reading will break down barriers."


A man protests against Brexit outside the Houses of Parliament in London July 5.