The use of emptiness and reality in Ishiguro’s novels

Sandeep K. Pandey (Research Scholar)

Prof. Karunesh Jha (HOD)

Department Of English

Pandit Shambhunath Shukla University

Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh


Contact no. 8815212021


The writings of Ishiguro reflect a sense of emptiness and loneliness concerning isolation and identity crisis faced by the characters within the story. The writings of Ishiguro reflect the past and are subjective about the history and cultural preferences of the characters written by Ishiguro. The significance of memory in bringing out the reflection of the past life in the present situation is very significant in the works of Ishiguro. The majority of his work focuses on people who have been a part of World War II or have some historical connection to the incident.

Novels such as “An Artist of the Floating World” denote emptiness through the characters of Ono and his course of development. Crisis is another significant theme found in his works. It is reflected either through an emotional perspective or through situations in the work of Ishiguro. Novels such as “An Artist of the Floating World”, “The Unconsoled” and “The Remains of the Day” highlight the theme of crisis in relation to masculinity. Another significant characteristic found in the work of Ishiguro is the use of non-realistic modes of friction with a combination of native realism. The need of identity in the eyes of the homeless is another feature, which are highlighted in the novel of Ishiguro. This can happen due to his own life experience as he shifted from Japan to Britain.

Keyword: reflect, characters, story, emptiness, crises


Emptiness is one such feeling that is related with the living of an individual in the society. Emptiness refers to the feeling of loneliness or nothingness, which makes a person feel empty in his or her personal life. There are various causes that cater to the cause of emptiness in the life of an individual which include rejection faced at the end of the loved ones, loss of loved ones or unable find any reason of living which makes them feel empty in their individual life. As the life of humans is a roller coaster of emotion and feelings there are certain times in lives, where an individual is unable to identify the real cause of their living or the rejection that face at the hands of their loved ones seems to curb their emotions over longer period. If taken into account isolation is another phase that might cause a feeling of emptiness in the life of an individual.

Ishiguro is his writings have expressed emptiness in the abode of loneliness, rejection, identity crisis and isolation. Ishiguro in his books has taken into account all the factors with the help of various small and big characters in explaining the various shades of emptiness. Most of the writings of Ishiguro reflect an atmosphere of emptiness and depressing reality according to the characters and their life. His writing is a mixture of the chronology of the past and subjective narration along with descriptions from history. The reflection of the emptiness within the life of his characters is happening during a major significance from history.

Reality as a reflection of emptiness though has been portrayed in a vibrant manner in his books like “Klara and the Sun”, “The Buried Giant” and in “An Artist of the Floating World”. Therefore, it has been observed that the characters in the books like Masuji, Ono, Etsuko, Rex, Klara and some other small characters from some other books they tend to portray the emptiness. Another such example might be the portrayal of the emptiness that is felt in the life of Stevens due to his own working rules that he maintained in his life. Therefore, the writing will deal with the various portray of emptiness with the help of the major and small characters in the novels of Ishiguro

Reality as a reflection of the Emptiness

Reflection on Zen Buddhism is a notable feature in his writing. Ishiguro’s second novel ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ written in the year 1986 reflects the notions of the floating world through his writings. In Japanese culture, floating world means accepting “the sorrowful nature of a fleeting life in the present mundane world”. Masuji Ono the protagonist attempts to reconcile with himself amidst the regulations of society. John Rothfork provides an analytical understanding based on the novel. He supported his claims and found out the perspectives in regard to the interrelation of emptiness and reality. The ending of Ishiguro is mainly a paradox where the characters face issues from the past. The ending of his writings mostly sees characters accepting their current state and who they have become during the course of their journey along with a realisation of the sorrow.

His works focus on the life of people who have been a part of World War II or have a history concerning that specific period. In his work, memory is used as an important tool in the identification and understanding of the characters in present reality. In the majority of his novels, the characters use memory as a tool to establish their present and past situations.

Ishiguro used memory to deal with trauma and feeling of emptiness due to several historical references as special references (Ray 2). In his writing, Ishiguro uses memory to bring forward the human experience to bring forth emptiness and reality throughout his characters. The elements of changing perspectives due to changing are strongly related to the core elements of the ‘An Artist of the Floating World’. The sense of emptiness is observed in the character of Ono during the course of his psychological development. This development has a strong relationship to the characteristic features of Zen Buddhism thoughts. It is one of the prominent features of the Japanese people and is based on their cultural beliefs (Oyama 3). Ishiguro’s writings use a paradigm based on his Asian Heritage to interpret his manners about his experiences. As a part of the study, researchers pointed out the similarity of the literature and cinema, which includes visual frames derived from the writings of Ishiguro. The idea of visualisation like the montage brings forward the theme of Ishiguro’s writings. “Never Let Me Go” earned Ishiguro Nobel Prize in the year 2017 bringing forwards the narrative of engaging the reader’s thinking and imagination (Oprisnyk 6).

The novel focuses on the relationships between friends and identity concerning the current reality of the world. Through the friendship trio in this story, Ishiguro tried to bring forward the reality of human actions in life decisions and questions between fake notions and reality. Ishiguro also points out the notable differences between stimulation and reality about the decisions taken by the characters shaping up their life. The theme of identity concerning emotional attachment with their guardians brings forward the reality of changing relations in one’s life. Much of the story is narrated through future perspectives keeping the change intact through the course of her entire life (Kara 73). Ishiguro’s novel reveals the emotion one exhibits in their life while experiencing ethical loss. The world of his characters revolves around the trauma faced in reality along with flawed human existence. Ishiguro’s protagonist continuously reflects on the loss and the feeling of emptiness concerning the present situation. Narratives shaping the identity are one of the prominent parts of his writings.

The issues taking place in the life of his characters are because of their complex nature. The narrative style involves attributes, particularly concerning the cultural preferences or beliefs followed by him. Ishiguro’s writing depicts a sense of reality and occurrence and his writing cannot be labelled under modern writing standards. He is greatly influenced by the happening of the World war and he feels the negative emotions of the people in that specific period. Ishiguro friction does not resolve the conflict but rather deters the resolution in regards to the post-modernist movements (Matovic 3). Ishiguro was widely praised for portraying the historical reality in his first three novels. It brought out the clear significance of the involvement of the issues of the past life and their emptiness in the present situation. The significance of emptiness can be explained through various themes associated with the story. The use of emptiness can be portrayed through the constant reflection of their past life along with the present situation. Kazuo Ishiguro created his own narrative style by combining the use of the reality of the situation and the flow of memories in relationship to the life of the protagonist. The involvement of Ishiguro’s own style of techniques such as musical structure and s polyphonic counterpoint is very well seen in the novel ‘A Pale View of Hill’ (Jiang 2). As a form of thematic analysis, Ishiguro uses various narrative techniques to bring forward the reflection of reality in his works (Taketomi, 2011). In order to combine different elements together Ishiguro uses instances from history to reflect the current reality in portraying the emptiness in the life of the characters throughout his novel.

Crisis and realism

Three of Kazuo Ishiguro’s writings The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day contain the theme of crisis in relation to masculinity, which is the base of the writing for all the above novels. The story reflects the sense of emotional hollowness concerning the suppressed emotional life. Any human can experience emptiness when they have a valid life (Ishiguro, 2012). The theme reflects the lack of emotional support thereby creating a sense of void in the life of the characters. The imbalance is clearly reflected in the work of Ishiguro and is highlighted in front of the readers by bringing forward the crisis situation. Every segment explores the crisis portrayed by Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day brings forward the narration concerning the situation concerning the theories implied by the author. The Unconsoled is regarded as one of the finest works of Ishiguro highlighting the crisis to a better view of the situation (O’Sullivan 4). The crisis is marked by ironic humanism along with a stronghold of authority in the life of the characters. The events taking place in the life of the characters are shown as the triggers highlighting the sense of reality faced by them in the current scenario. Ishiguro tries to develop the mind of his readers through constant updates and instances from memory. This might be done by showing the difference between the previous and the present life.

The elements such as the cognitive process concerning recognition and the emotional aspects concerning the present situation are well depicted in the writing of Ishiguro. Ishiguro continues to use memory as one of the central themes in his writings (Oyama, 2021). Memory can be used in several ways in bringing out the exact state of the action or setting up the time for the writing. It can be used as a form of happy incident or in some instances can be used to bring forward the trauma faced by the characters in their past life. Anything taking place in the past life has a direct relationship to reality. Ishiguro’s forest works are a reflection of the fact that not only individuals but also certain groups are easily forgotten by society over the course of time (Thirlwell, 2016). According to the analysis presented by Teo, Ishiguro is one such writer who prefers to work with elements which is a clear sign of the time thereby presenting fragmented views. This way appears to be more realistic towards the readers from both experience and perspectives (Charlwood 2).

A Pale View of Hills’ is the first novel written by Ishiguro where he has very well blended the narratives along with the situation in bringing out the issues and disturbances faced by Etsuko. The main protagonist of the novel is dealing with perception regarding the past (Ishiguro, 2012). The narrative does not follow the basic structure of narration but contributes towards the painful memories and trauma presenting a type of realism. The phenomenon of subjective is presented and is highlighted when the characters mix up the past thereby creating satisfying narratives. Ishiguro creates a remarkable landscape by involving the vision where the character is dealing with the memories of the past through documentation, texts and accounts of the instances (Matovic 4). The themes and depiction of the reality of Ishiguro’s work are dependent upon the type of thinking he had while he was growing up. He was born in Japan but moved to Great Britain thereby he has been an accurate observant of both cultures. His work focuses on the dignity and mind-set of the characters and their adjacent surroundings. In his work ‘The Remains of the Day’ Ishiguro’s vision regarding the way the Japanese view the British is clearly shown in the novel (Ishiguro, 2010). Cultural stereotypes as well as conflict supported by the ways readers perceived the story. The novel is written in the first-person narrative and based on the time period of World War times. Even after being so loyal to the service, the central character was accused. The central theme of the novel is dignity and greatness, social changes and class differences, loyalty and policies and Authenticity, Performance, and Self-Deception based upon the happenings in the life of Steven’s life in the novel (Medvedkina et al., 1-4).

Critics have often argued the fragmented structure of the memory in bringing out the reflection of the crisis faced by the character bin bringing out the reality of the situation. As an author, Ishiguro purposely fills up the gaps in the mind of the readers by bringing out the small developments concerning the plots of the story. He develops the idea of consciousness in the minds of the readers to fulfil them within the background of the story. Such is the effect of Ishiguro’s novel to create a reservoir of memory by combining the fragments of both positive and negative emotions into a single frame (Altroggen 4). The crisis in Ishiguro’s writing is marked by realism and ironic humanism concerning the experiences of the characters. The crisis is one such situation, which involves the use of past memories and analysing the present situation through constant comparison.

Disclosure and realistic capacity for wisdom and wellbeing

Ishiguro uses non-realistic modes of friction in his writing. In his novel ‘When We Were Orphans’ Ishiguro combines narrative realism with other forms of nationalism. The novel is based on Shanghai memories. It presents two different constructed pictures; one is Christopher Banks’s beautiful childhood memories in Shanghai. The second memory is of Christopher’s adulthood, which is not as pleasant as his childhood memories. The significance of memory in creating a realistic capacity for wisdom and wellbeing is very well highlighted in the novel. The function of memory in creating a dual space is well pointed out in the story. Christopher uses his memory in creating both positive and negative images of females and males making them look like a reality. This might not be true but based on the descriptive readers might believe the portrayal. Elizabeth Weston states that Ishiguro represents the state of mind by creating narratives such as melancholy and nostalgia to depict the traumatic experience faced by the protagonist. She further presented her observations that the structure of memory that the characters build-up is related to the issues concerning imagination, unreliability and orphan-hood (Shang 3). Ishiguro uses his creative imagination to create a city, which he has visited in the novel.

The emptiness is highlighted through the search conducted by Christopher for his family, which he is experiencing in his real life. The novel put up a challenge to the readers and their capacity for double reading. Repression and Displacement are very well experienced in the novels ‘When We Were Orphans’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Ishiguro. His writing reflects a sense of anxiety over matters such as immigration, international conflicts and globalisation. Many authors have pointed out the fact that Ishiguro is a representative figure of the late twentieth-century globalisation period. With his portrayal of human emotions through their past memories or journey, Ishiguro tried to establish a connection with reality and the relative emptiness faced by the characters through their journey. Critics often agreed to the fact that Ishiguro’s writing reflects the International crisis faced by individuals not only through their life journey but also through dominant childhood. Ishiguro’s reflection on the abandoned childhood in the novel is used to depict not only the factors concerning the difficulties as a child but also the reflection of the circus situation faced by the protagonist. This crisis has led to a feeling of emptiness not only in regards to the psychological perspectives but the crisis is also expressed through transitional migration, economic issues along with factors concerning globalisation (Dean 3-6).

One of the most features, which can be found in Ishiguro’s writings, is that he never judges his character concerning the ways they implement in dealing with the harsh reality. Each of his characters has their own set of notions and uses their inner abilities to deal with reality concerning their current situations. Through characterization as an author, Ishiguro’s major attempt is to present and bring out the complex emotional turmoil that the characters experience in there, life (Lalrinfeli, 2012). By highlighting the complex emotional structure through these characters the primary objectivity of emptiness and reality is very well portrayed in the writings of Ishiguro. The display of a series of events in Ishiguro’s novel brings forward past life instances and a great display of heroic struggles. Through the character of Christopher, this quality is highlighted in front of the readers. Reflection of the memories concerning past life palsy an important role and this is closely expressed through the last words spoken by Christopher in the novel ‘When We Were Orphans’ (Calinescu 3-5).

The portrayal of emptiness can also be presented through the tragedy and sorrows faced by the characters in the writings of Ishiguro. In ‘A Pale View of Hills’ representation of emptiness is done by putting forwards the effects of migration and trauma faced by the character throughout the novel. Novelist Ishiguro uses traumas as a form of tragedy in the novel depicting the journey of the protagonist’s life. The uncertainty between Etsuko’s present and past life brings forward the effects of migration in relation to the current reality. A Pale View of Hills is the fruits novel written by Ishiguro and it reflects the circumstances of his own life. Like the characters, Ishiguro also shifted to Britain from his homeland reflecting the psychological and social imbalance of migration in an individual life (Matek 130).

‘Never Let Me Go’ written by Kazuo Ishiguro not only focuses on the passage of time but also focus on complex human emotions, intimacy and issues revolving around the everyday life of the protagonist. The novel Ishiguro focuses on the initial impression made by the characters rather than the overall perspectives concerning reality. Although Ishiguro is following write up such as ‘The Unconsoled’ bring forward a ³ wave in Ishiguro’s writings, ‘Never Let Me Go’ can be labelled as the non-realistic friction mixed up with the fantasy concerning realism. The novel also explores the ability of humans to find out fulfilment in the diminished life. Ishiguro also explores the concept concerning the marginalised section and their life by exploring the emptiness through the life of the characters (Ang 41-44).

The idea of understanding and identity

Ishiguro has always felt the need for identity in eyes of the homeless; this might result from his own life experience as he has shifted from his own homeland to some other palace. He was born in Japan but shifted to Britain during the course of his lifetime. Identifying is a very significant part in order to bring forward the standing ground within an individual. Ishiguro in the majority of his novels often expresses estrangement and self-indulgence. ‘Nocturnes’ a story collection written by Ishiguro presented his creative side in front of the readers by combining the collection of short fiction stories (Whitehead 4-5). The struggle for identity is a major theme in the works of many notable authors over time. The novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro highlights the importance and quest for identity as the characters grow and develop throughout the story. Through the prime characters Ruth, Tommy and Kathy the author tried to bring forward the importance of acceptance and the consequences of one’s actions in their life. The novel highlights traumatised experiences in the highlighted in the life of the characters. The characters must accept the events happening in their life and every one of them is dealing with issues of their own. The majority of his novels end with a hopeful note putting forward a sense of optimism in the mind of the readers. The characters face the reality of the situation throughout the novel (Humy 2).

Although Ishiguro is not termed a historical writer, most of his writings are written in the background of World War II. Four of his novels have a similar background except Unconsoled published in the year 1995 and Never Let Me Go, which came out in the year 2005. Ishiguro has always invented ways in bringing out conflicts concerning the traditions existing in the Japanese culture along with England. He can bring forward both cultures just because he lived in both cultural dimensions. In the novel ‘The Remains of the Day, the arguments of the present are based on post-colonialism in regard to both cultures. The literary work of Ishiguro is bounded by the universal theme focusing on the issues faced by individuals in that era. Both cultures reflect their personal history along with the emptiness and trauma surrounding the history. Memory is used as a constant reminder of the experiences faced by the characters and their effect on reality. ‘The Remains of the Day’ emphasises the slave-master relationships that the protagonist encounters in his personal life. Kazuo Ishiguro uses national identity in bringing out changing landscapes concerning the post-colonial world (Alamri 3). The first-person writing style adopted by Ishiguro helps him to bring forward the emotional encounters faced by his characters throughout their life.

The encounters can give rise to both positive as well as the feeling of emptiness in their life. Most of the works of Ishiguro consider happen is in history as a prominent part. Past happens and shapes reality. The readers are also exposed to double consciousness, which happens when the characters are caught up between cultural differences and the associated trauma. Trauma is often articulated with the feeling of emptiness concerning memory. Emptiness is also associated with the feeling of nostalgia associated with the people living in the post-colonial era. Ishiguro focuses on the connection between the memories that the characters hold along with historical references to discover their personal conflicts. Ishiguro highlights the trauma faced by the characters through the experiences faced by the self (Meher 14). The majority of the protagonist in Ishiguro’s writings suppresses their emotions through the narration. The feeling of emptiness is expressed in the plot through the mention of past instances. Memory is used as a powerful tool in bringing out the experiences that the characters face in life. The novel is written by Ishiguro focus on the life of people and their experience both concerning the past and reality. There is a constant struggle between the desires of the narrator to hide from the reality of the situation and then again exposing the pains of reality. Ishiguro involves using myth in his work concerning the Japanese culture, which he is a part of and was observing during his grown-up years. Emptiness can be shown in the life of the characters by bringing forward instances that the character faced throughout their life. The idea of understanding is based upon the instances faced by the characters and their current reality. The narrative style adopted by Kazuo Ishiguro is mainly explained through the boundaries concerning the experiments in regards to forgetting rather than remembering and is expressed is very well shown through “The Buried Gaint” (Ishiguro, 2015). Criticising the literature paradigm in association with empathy, Whitehead identified the worth of contemporary literature in front of the readers by bringing out the various possibilities. If Ishiguro’s own thoughts e considered the fascination in regards to the thematic can be associated with his own archive bringing forward the use of various ideologies in bringing out the emptiness and reality (Holmes and Kelly 4).

The narrative technique of Ishiguro involves the use of bringing out past memory in depicting the current scenarios. A lot of this work has a strong relevance to history in highlighting the emptiness in the life of the characters. Reality plays a crucial role in his writing as it joins the dots between the past and the present. Ishiguro’s writing focuses on both past and present situations bringing the journey of the protagonist’s life while portraying the nature of emptiness that is being dealt by the characters in his novels. Along with that, the author also takes into account various modern day situations that leads to emptiness in the life of an individual especially in the book “Klara and the Sun” where the emphasis is made on eh emptiness that the kids are facing in their tender age leading them to various puzzling situations in their life. Along with that, it can be further be concluded that Ishiguro has taken the real issues and causes in order to explain the feeling of emptiness in the life of an individual in the modern days.


Ishiguro is considering a historical writer but the majority of his writings have significance to the incidents happening in his past life. The universal theme in works of Ishiguro is to use memory along with identity to highlight the experiences of characters and the situations faced by them. Existence is one such theme that has been a part of Ishiguro’s writings. The significance of Japanese culture and traditions can be very well seen in his writings. Suffering due to a lack of identity is another aspect found in his work and that is mainly due to portraying expresses estrangement and self-indulgence resulting due to identity issues.


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