Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve never read Kazuo Ishiguro before last year, and while my experience has been mixed (The Unconsoled=bleech, Never Let Me Go=love), I can still tell he is a great writer. He’s the author of things like Remains of the Day, stuff that seems like E.M. Forster territory. Anyway, I mention him, because despite these ultra-British stories, I totally assumed they were translations, that he was a writer from Japan writing far from England. With a name that’s so mega-Japanesese from top to bottom, left to right, like “Kazuo Ishiguro,” I thought, for sure, no way is English this guy’s first language. I was wrong! I’m racist! He’s married with kids and grew up in England, and is credited as being one of the top English writers demonstrating an uncanny understanding of English society. It’s funny that I assumed so much from his name, but you know what? Is it not weird that out of this guy’s multi-year, brilliant writing career, all the characters are white? I mean, of all the stories he imagines, none of them include a Japanese-English dude who keeps getting mistaken for white or something? I dunno. Struck me as odd, mostly, because I recently noticed the same thing in my writing. I actually have Korean characters in all my stories, but nothing they struggle with has to do with the fact that they are Korean, which I am beginning to think is a touch odd and speaks to some feeling of alienation I have toward my own ethnicity, you feel me?

4 Replies to “Kazuo Ishiguro”

  1. He wrote a novel set in Japan with Japanese characters called “A Pale View Of Hills” in 1982. It is not as refined as his later works but he was in his twenties. He also wrote one (I forgot the title) set in China before the revolution with white main characters but also with Japanese and Chinese minor characters. He was born in Japan and came to England when he was six. I agree that he is a remarkable writer. I think when a writer writes about what she/he knows, it resonates in a deeper, more immediate level. You don’t need the period of getting in tune with the imagined territory, or notice some off the mark aspects when you happen to know the territory. So don’t feel odd or get hung up about paying due to your ethnicity. I love your blog!

  2. thanks emo! i didn’t know that about kazuo ishiguro, and clearly, i was too lazy to research more. that’s remarkable that english is his second language and he can still write so well. i guess you should write what you want. chang rae lee keeps writing about ww2 koreans, which bugs me, b/c i’m like DUDE YOU LIVE NOW, but there are a lot of people obsessed with that time period. i am obsessed with jokes. i just think it’s weird that in all my writing, everybody’s asian but it’s incidental, which has been a deliberate choice but might be worth exploring more deeply in some piece. whatever. if i finish something, i’m lucky.

  3. When I wrote the comment, I was thinking about Chang Rae Lee’s books too. The main character in his latest book doesn’t come across as particularly Korean and the orphanage set up and the dynamics among people in it don’t ring true. I was only a toddler during the war but I read enough stories written by people who lived through it to know they are off. But I enjoyed the book. It’s an old fashioned ambitious story with a lot of issues tucked in. I liked his “Aloft” best. That’s the one that rings true on every level. I wonder why Ha Jin’s books feel authentic when he mostly writes about Chinese people in different settings. Even the “War Trash”, which is not about his contemporaries, rings true. Maybe because he came to America as an adult, and has a Chinese psych.

  4. yeah, i know what you mean about ha jin versus chang rae lee. i don’t get how or why lee’s so hung up on the ww2 people, except i suppose it’s his parents’ generation. i liked aloft too, though, like i’ve said, the language is so sophisticated and aware, it wasn’t quite a match between the charcter and the point of view

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