To borrow and rephrase from Bob Dylan, last year’s Nobel awardee for literature, how many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a Nobel winner? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. While the choice of Dylan was an inspired one and showed us that the board that presides over the Nobel isn’t as staid as one would have thought, but somehow, the announcement of Kazuo Ishiguro as this year’s choice made the heart actually sing. It’s good to come home after a slightly adventurous detour to a writer, credited with a solid body of work that has contributed to world literature and forced us to ask some hard questions.
And as author Salman Rushdie pointed out, after the win, “And he plays the guitar and writes songs, too! Roll over Bob Dylan.” Incidentally, in his youth, Ishiguro went through a phase where he performed at clubs and wanted to be a singer-songwriter, something that helped him develop his style of writing, with hidden meaning lurking beneath the surface of his prose.
While Haruki Murakami, also on the list of nominees, is largely seen as too much a part of pop culture to be taken seriously, Ishiguro’s work is also surprisingly accessible, with his novels being adapted into films and even a Japanese television series. A bestselling author, he touches on themes of memory and loss, even as his work leaps across science fiction, magical realism and lately, fantasy, in The Buried Giant, published after a gap of a decade.
An immigrant writer, who arrived in Britain at the age of five, after his family migrated from Japan, Ishiguro’s story reminds us how the world is one, minus boundaries. Last year, all six of America’s Nobel laureates were immigrants, which says a lot in the current political environment, without anything needing to be said! As the Nobel laureate stated, “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. …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.”
In an interview to the New Yorker, the author spoke about the dilemma over what to remember and forget, and when, both as a nation and an individual. He said, “I can sympathise with people that say, it’s just better—even if it means justice isn’t actually being served, even if it seems morally repugnant, maybe just to get through a really delicate point in a nation’s history—to agree to forget things.” Through a character in Never Let Me Go, he tells us that memories are what shape us, give us identity. As a nation, in India, this resonates with sporadic attempts to revisit our past through a sanitised lens. It reminds us that it’s time we take ownership of our darkest memories. That’s the power of true literature, to take us beyond ourselves and show us what we can achieve collectively. And it’s time to celebrate just that.
(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee. Views expressed are personal.)