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Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954; his family immigrated to England in 1960. During his childhood in England, Ishiguro always thought his family would someday return to Japan, though they never did. When the family left Japan, his close relationship with his grandfather was abruptly severed. His grandfather's absence especially affected Ishiguro because his grandfather died a few years later.
Ishiguro was schooled to the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University of East Anglia. After graduating, his rise to fame was amazingly rapid. His first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982) won the Winifred Holtby Prize from the Royal Society of Literature. The novel discusses the postwar memories of Etsuko, a Japanese woman trying to deal with the suicide of her daughter Keiko. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1986 and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. This story chronicles the life of an elderly man named Masuji Ono, who looks back over his career as a political artist of Japanese imperialist propaganda. The Remains of the Day (1988), Ishiguro's third novel, won him the Booker Prize. In 1993 it was adapted into a highly successful and acclaimed film starring Anthony Hopkins as Stevens and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton. Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature for his prolific body of work.
The Remains of the Day is commonly branded a post-imperialist work, as its protagonist harbors nostalgia for the English way of life before World War II, when Britain still held colonies all over the world. However, this fact is merely tangential to the novel, which is primarily a story of human—not political—regret. Furthermore, though many of Ishiguro's works are branded as post-colonial novels, The Remains of the Day again does not fit into this classification: Ishiguro's Japanese heritage is not relevant to the plot nor to the narrative.
Indeed, the body of Ishiguro's work defies simplistic classification. Even in his other post-war narratives set in Japan, his own heritage is much less important than the larger human concerns that the novels raise. This characteristic is, perhaps, reflective of the fact that Ishiguro felt himself neither English nor Japanese. His constructions of each society are those of one who felt himself an outsider in some sense. Each of Ishiguro's novels describe an individual's memories of how his or her personal life was changed by the Second World War, and the regret and sorrow that reminiscences have the power to awaken.
Among his primary influences, Ishiguro cites Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Kafka. He also admires the Czech exile writer Milan Kundera, the Irish exile writer Samuel Beckett, and the American exile writer Henry James. Though Ishiguro never referred to himself as an "exile," this theme of exile or expatriation plays a role in many of his works.
Both World Wars play a significant part in The Remains of the Day, the period between the wars being of is especial significance. As the narrative is confined to a butler's experience of the outer world from within the walls of a noble manor house, we are given only snippets of information—references to the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of Nazism, and so on. The Treaty of Versailles is an important historical document to understand, as the document forms a large part of Lord Darlington's impetus to help Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles, drawn up at the end of World War I, was signed by the Allied and Associated Powers at Versailles, France, on June 28, 1919. The original intention was that the Treaty should be only one part of a general and inclusive settlement with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as with Germany. However, delays in dealing with the smaller nations, especially Hungary and Turkey, not only separated the German treaty from the others, but also caused it to be the first to be signed and the first to come into force.
The Versailles Treaty was bitterly criticized by the Germans and by many people in other countries, such as Lord Darlington in the novel. One complaint was that the treaty has been "dictated"—not only in the sense that it was imposed on a defeated enemy, in the sense that there had been no verbal negotiations with Germany. Germany also protested that the Treaty was not in harmony with the fourteen points that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the pre-Armistice agreement had set out as the basis of peace. Indeed, there was much truth to Germany's claim. The third, and perhaps most important complaint Germany set forth was that the Treaty demanded staggering sacrifices that could not be carried out without completely wrecking the German economy. This claim, however, was only partly true. Though the war reparations were significant, it was not the reparations themselves that landed Germany in economic dire straits—it was the staggering cost of the war itself.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Remains of the Day!