Julia Domenicucci ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
On Saturday March 21, the second day of spring, Harvard University’s Memorial Church is packed with people, all eager to hear Kazuo Ishiguro discuss The Buried Giant. This is Ishiguro’s seventh novel, but his first in a decade. The attendees range in age but all chatter with anticipation, quieting suddenly around 4 pm, when it seems the famed author may finally appear on the stage. Eventually, at 4:15 pm, the event properly begins. All eyes are on Ishiguro.
The event, hosted by the Harvard Book Store and moderated by journalist Robert Birnbaum, opened with introductions and Ishiguro reading a short passage—exactly three pages—from The Buried Giant. Ishiguro reads slowly and carefully in his soft British accent; it echoes through the mic and around the arching church. Even in these first few pages, it is clear that The Buried Giant is in a different vein from his other novels, which include the Booker-Prize-winning The Remains of the Day (1989) and the poignant Never Let Me Go (2005). Here, there are ogres.
The discussion maintains a humorous vein throughout, and Ishiguro notes that in the later Q&A session the audience will be welcome to “ask all kinds of things—within limits.” Birnbaum brings the discussion from trepidation about releasing a book to public and private success to book reviews to being an aging writer. Ishiguro responds to each question at length, with great thought and an extreme dose of modesty.
In terms of reviews, he does read them. “How it was received at the other end is of great importance to me,” he says, “I read reviews like any other kind of reaction.” Neil Gaiman’s review for the New York Times comes up, as does Ishiguro’s wife, who has a Google alert for reviews set up on her phone. When Birnbaum mentions Ishiguro’s age—sixty—and asks if it makes writing harder, Ishiguro has only honesty for the audience. “I don’t think it’s technically harder. But a book that is worth the effort seems harder.”
Many other tidbits about Ishiguro’s life and writing come up through the discussion. He writes and rewrites in thirty to forty page chunks. (“I’m building a foundation,” he says.) He watches movies in spans of eras, so he can get a broad understanding of the styles and methods of a given time. He writes lyrics for a jazz singer.
When the Q&A session starts, so do some technical difficulties. Both the audience mic and Ishiguro’s stop working, so Birnbaum and the author lean in to share one. After trying to have audience members shout questions, Ishiguro instructs them to use the working mic that is stuck to the pulpit—which is a giant gold eagle.
Questions range from the mundane—discussing which movies and books Ishiguro is currently enjoying—to the philosophical, and Ishiguro provides long, detailed answers for each. Some of the most interesting discussion were on the topics of memory—a huge feature in The Buried Giant as well as in some of his other novels—and theatrical adaptations. As for the latter, Ishiguro makes it clear he embraces adaptations wholeheartedly, as long as it remains original. “It has to be a work of art in its own right,” he says. “I don’t want people to try to translate my vision. I want them to build on it.”
The Q&A was followed by the book signing. It seemed like nearly everyone in attendance joined the lengthy, snaking line. Most had The Buried Giant in one hand; many held well-loved copies of other Ishiguro novels in the other. The author happily signed anything brought to him and thanked each person for waiting in line. Even when he was signing books for entire church’s worth of people, people who were very much there to see him and hear him speak, Kazuo Ishiguro remained humble.