STOCKHOLM – Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for his “novels of great emotional force.”
The Japan-born British author, best known for his novel “The Remains of the Day,” uncovered “the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world,” the Swedish Academy said, awarding the prize of 9 million kronor ($1.1 million).
Ishiguro, 62, is the third Japan-born winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, following Yasunari Kawabata in 1968 and Kenzaburo Oe in 1994.
Ishiguro told the BBC the prize was “flabbergastingly flattering,” the broadcaster reported on its website.
“It’s a magnificent honor, mainly because it means that I’m in the footsteps of the greatest authors that have lived, so that’s a terrific commendation,” he was quoted as saying.
He said he hoped the prize would be a force for good.
“The world is in a very uncertain moment and I would hope all the Nobel prizes would be a force for something positive in the world as it is at the moment,” he said.
“I’ll be deeply moved if I could in some way be part of some sort of climate this year in contributing to some sort of positive atmosphere at a very uncertain time.”
The award marks a return to a more mainstream interpretation of literature, after the 2016 prize went to singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.
“The themes Ishiguro is most associated with are already present here: memory, time, and self-delusion,” the Academy said.
The author won the Man Booker Prize for his most renowned novel, “The Remains of the Day,” a story of a fastidious and repressed butler in postwar Britain. The work was made into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and moved at age 5 with his parents to Britain, where he still lives and writes in English.
Both his first novel “A Pale View of Hills” from 1982 and the subsequent one, “An Artist of the Floating World” from 1986, take place in Nagasaki a few years after World War II.
“I didn’t visit Japan at all since I left here in 1960 at the age of 5,” the author told The Japan Times during a visit to Japan in 2001. “So I got to my 20s having a relationship with a place called Japan … made up entirely of memories and images I had accumulated from books, magazines, comics and movies. It was a very strange Japan of memory and speculation.”
“Nevertheless, it was a very precious place to me,” he said.
Apart from his eight books, Ishiguro has also written scripts for film and television.
“Ishiguro’s writings are marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place,” the Academy noted.
“He is a little bit like a mix of Jane Austen, comedy of manners and Franz Kafka. If you mix this a little, not too much, you get Ishiguro in a nutshell,” said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.
In a 1989 interview with Bomb Magazine, Ishiguro said: “I tend to be attracted to pre-war and post-war settings because I’m interested in this business of values and ideals being tested, and people having to face up to the notion that their ideals weren’t quite what they thought they were before the test came.”
His more recent fiction contains elements of fantasy. With the critically-acclaimed dystopian work “Never Let Me Go” from 2005, Ishiguro introduced “a cold undercurrent” of science fiction into his work, the jury said.
Inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Marcel Proust, Ishiguro’s characters often painfully come to terms with who they are without closure.
His latest novel, “The Buried Giant” from 2015, explores “in a moving manner, how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality.”
In the book, an elderly couple go on a road trip through an archaic English landscape, hoping to reunite with their adult son, whom they have not seen for years.
Asked in the Japan Times interview about his common use of the themes of nostalgia and memory, he said: “I continue to find memory a fascinating device. It’s a filter through which we all see ourselves — we tell stories about who we are and what we’ve done in the past and who we have become.”
He added: “Because memory is vague and hazy and open to manipulation, it’s very easy to deceive oneself about one’s life. There is cowardice and heroism in trying to face up to that and bring the past into focus. Maybe … because of my history, there is a part of me that has an irrational fondness for the textures of memory and re-creating them.”
Ishiguro was not among those tipped as a favorite for this year’s Nobel.
His publisher Faber & Faber wrote on Twitter after the announcement, “We’re THRILLED Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize!”
Ishiguro takes his place beside Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Doris Lessing and Ernest Hemingway as winner of the world’s most prestigious literary award.
Ishiguro will receive his prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.
The Nobel Prizes are named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.
The Nobel Peace Prize is slated to be announced on Friday, followed by the The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel on Monday.