A Novelist's Take on This Year's Nobel Prize for Literature
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because who better to weigh in on literary prizes than a novelist?
By Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika
Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika is a British-Nigerian novelist, academic and OZY’s books editor.
Following last year’s surprising and controversial pick of Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize in literature, I was curious and excited to see who would be selected this year. Like many writers, I created my own list, based on literary merit, of those who struck me as worthy contenders: Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Edwidge Danticat, Marilynne Robinson and David Grossman.
Kazuo Ishiguro didn’t make my cut, in part because I didn’t place his work in the same category of obscure literature in which I place many previous winners’. Also, historically, the Nobel Committee has not chosen authors who have enjoyed great commercial success. So I was surprised — pleasantly so — when I learned of Ishiguro’s win.
[S]tories that speak to those on the margins, including women, immigrants, servants and the elderly, seem more important than ever.
Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day was, for many years, the best book I’d ever read. It was the book that I kept reaching for as I began my first novel, hoping some of the author’s mastery of characters, settings and history around a poignant love story might rub off onto my own writing.
Ishiguro frequently writes about characters on the margins of society, from servants to the elderly. At times like now, when there is great fear in our world about “the other,” stories that speak to those on the margins, including women, immigrants, servants and the elderly, seem more important than ever. It’s a poignant fact that when I first read The Remains of the Day, I, like others, consumed the myth that Ishiguro was a Japanese writer. This made the creation of what is considered a very British story (especially with its subtle exploration of class stratification) even more stunning. The fact that Ishiguro is British with immigrant parents should help us reimagine how we think of national writers.
His latest book, The Buried Giant, is a profound meditation on the nature of memory and forgetfulness on both the individual and national levels; a story particularly suited to our times. Ishiguro is one of the rare writers who successfully works within numerous literary genres, ranging from love stories to science fiction to fantasy; as in his last book, several literary genres are rolled into one sparkling whole. The force of his writing comes in its ability to escape from the tired and the facile.
“Language,” Toni Morrison says, “can never ‘pin down’ slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity, is in its reach toward the ineffable.” Ishiguro’s reach toward the ineffable makes him a worthy Nobel winner.