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British Writer Kazuo Ishiguro Wins Nobel Prize In Literature


The Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded. It goes to British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. In making the announcement this morning, the Swedish Academy cited Ishiguro's, quote, "novels of great emotional force." They said the books uncover the, quote, "abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world." NPR's Lynn Neary joins us now in studio to talk about the prize.

Hi, Lynn.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Hi, good to be here.

MARTIN: So last year's winner was Bob Dylan. This is a different kind of winner. He's not completely unknown, though, in the U.S., as is sometimes the case.

NEARY: No. I think that a lot of people will recognize Ishiguro's name. They'll be familiar with it because two of his best-known novels have been adapted into films, most notably "Remains Of The Day," which was adapted by Merchant Ivory in 1993, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and "Never Let Me Go," based on his 2005 novel of the same name.

"Remains Of The Day" is the story of a butler looking back on his life and sort of wondering if his dedication to duty has been worth it. And as the secretary of the Swedish Academy said this morning - Sara Danius - she said - after making the announcement, she talked about this book. She said, it starts as a kind of novel of manners and then gradually becomes more and more Kafkaesque as it goes along, which is very Ishiguro, I think.

MARTIN: Yeah, so what more can you tell us about him? Obviously, he's of Japanese heritage, but he's a U.K. author. He's British.

NEARY: Right. He was born in Nagasaki, but his family moved to England when he was 5. So he spent most of his life there. But his first two novels are set in Japan. "A Pale View Of The Hills," his first novel, is about a Japanese woman who moved to England as a young woman, and after her daughter's suicide, she's looking back on her life. Again, looking back on her life - this is a theme going through a lot of his books, this idea of memory and wondering if one's life has been worth it.

One reviewer said that this book was, quote, "typically Japanese in its compression and its reticence." And although he has written books about Japan, he's very clear that he is a British novelist, that he's writing about Japan, really, as an outsider. And he's considered one of Britain's greatest contemporary authors. He was nominated for The Man Booker four times. He won the Man Booker for "Remains Of The Day." His seventh novel, "The Buried Giant," was published in 2015. And in 2009, he published his first collection of short stories, "Nocturnes."

MARTIN: "Never Let Me Go" was a different kind of book for him, wasn't it?

NEARY: It was. Now, with this book, he enters the world of dystopian fiction. And this is a book that is set in a boarding school in Britain. It seems like a typical boarding school. You get very involved in the lives of these young people, their friends, and their crushes and, you know, their everyday lives.

And only gradually do you realize, it's actually set in the future, and that there is something very strange going on and that these children have - are fated to do something that is very sad, very tragic. And he does this so gradually. And as a reader, you've gotten so involved in - with these kids that when you begin to understand what's happening, it's kind of crushing. It's a crushing kind of realization.

MARTIN: Notable also - the Swedish Academy once again went with a European or a Western writer.

NEARY: That's right, and there was a lot of speculation this year that it might go to an African writer. Ngugi wa Thiong’o was talked about a lot because it's been more than 30 years since a black sub-Saharan African writer has won the Nobel. But, you know, you never can predict what the academy is going to do. Often, they give the award to a very political writer, and Ishiguro is not that. I would say he's - has a more existential approach in his writing - so more personal than political.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Lynn Neary talking with us about the Nobel Prize in literature that was announced this morning. Thanks, Lynn.

NEARY: Good to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF AS THE POETS AFFIRM'S "I AM PLEASANT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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