The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro – author of eight highly acclaimed novels including the Booker-Prize winning The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let Me Go (2005) – was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he offered a vivid account of what it felt like to move as a five-year-old boy in April 1960 from Nagasaki, Japan ‘to the town of Guildford, Surrey, in the affluent ‘stockbroker belt’ thirty miles south of London. My father was a research scientist, an oceanographer who’d come to work for the British government.’
For Ishiguro the Guildford of the 1960s and his childhood photographs now seems like ‘a vanished era’: ‘Men wear woollen V-neck pullovers with ties, cars still have running boards and a spare wheel on the back.’ His memories of Guildford are also of a place in which the urban and the rural mingle and overlap: ‘Our family lived in a cul-de-sac of twelve houses just where the paved roads ended and the countryside began. It was less than a five minute stroll to the local farm and the lane down which rows of cows trudged back and forth between fields. Milk was delivered by horse and cart.’
Like most of the other children he now found himself growing up with, Ishiguro ‘attended Sunday school, and before long was singing in the church choir, becoming, aged ten, the first Japanese Head Chorister seen in Guildford. I went to the local primary school [Stoughton Primary School] – where I was the only non-English child, quite possibly in the entire history of that school – and from when I was eleven, I travelled by train to my grammar school in a neighbouring town [Woking County Grammar School], sharing the carriage each morning with ranks of men in pinstripe suits and bowler hats’ – another social detail from a time now departed! – ‘on their way to their offices in London.’
Ishiguro in 1960s Guildford acquired ‘a kind of local fame’ as ‘as the only foreign boy in the neighbourhood’. ‘To meet a foreigner from France or Italy was remarkable enough’ in Guildford in those days, he recalls, ‘never mind one from Japan.’ But looking back he remains ‘amazed by the openness and instinctive generosity with which our family was accepted by this ordinary English community’. It is a generosity gently repaid by his Nobel acceptance speech, with Ishiguro’s evocative recollections of the Guildford of the era bringing both place and people back to life with great care and precision.