An interview with novelist Kazuo Ishiguro throws up questions of identity, change and values.
It is a short interview with Kazuo Ishiguro, the famous novelist of Japanese origin, but the thoughts thrown up are deep and unresolved. For instance, one of the resounding questions thrown by change is: What happens to values, if during the course of a person’s lifetime things deemed honourable and great turn out to be something to be ashamed of? Kazua Ishiguro whose novels wrestle with this idea says he owes this question partly to being who he is. “I was born nine years after the end of WWII. If you are of Japanese background, it would be quite natural to wonder, if I had been born just one generation earlier, would I have had the perspective, strength of character, the physical courage to stand with militaristic fervour?” Ishiguro’s parents were in Nagasaki during the bombing but the writer says one single event has not triggered off this thought. It is broader based. “I grew up thinking every town had an atomic bomb or something. The atomic bomb used to keep getting mentioned as a marker in time in my home…I thought every town had a bomb. When I was seven I looked into a book to realise with some pride that Nagasaki was among the two towns which experienced bombing.”
Another beautiful moment comes when Ishiguro highlights how difficult it is for us to act without knowing the larger picture and so we are constantly in doubt.
“I think this doubting about whether one is wasting one’s life…this fear, does not apply so much to the choice of vocation, it applies to the actual work. It is very easy to fall into this doubt, particularly if you have achieved a certain degree of acceptance…History has shown time and time again that we often do not have perspective when we are doing things. We do not really know how we fit into the scheme of things,” says Ishiguro.
One of the constant responses a writer hears is, “Oh! I too want to write but you know I have no time.”
Ishiguro too had met with such responses for he says when he did a course on creative writing, “The course simulated as closely as possible the conditions required for a writer…very few distractions and a very empty space, just you and a piece of paper. And I think this is the most difficult thing. Many people think they would write if they were not so awfully busy…but when you take away all the stuff, they find they have nothing to write. During the course of that year I had started a novel…”
Ishiguro says an author necessarily changes his perception during his lifetime.
Not to do so would be “…like insisting on wearing the same clothes you wore twenty years ago. In my novel ‘Remains of the Day’, you can look back on the road you travelled. I used to write with that vision of life. By the time I got to my late 30s, I realised that you did not set a course and follow it in life. You do set a course, but it is more like a wind picked you up and dumped you in some place, things like chance, what life allows you to do and not to do, the obligations that people close to you and society put on you…of course you take stock and say I am happy things worked out as they did…but there is something quite touching about people’s ability to dignify the part the wind has dumped them down on…”
About how he finds his characters, Ishiguro says it is not so much by observation of others as it is about introspection.
“I try to look into myself for some tendency, trait which is not perhaps even noticeable…that fascinates me, a fear…and with that I build my characters…since I am a writer…I do have a highly developed inner world…”