Kazuo Ishiguro and the Remains of Empire


Having won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro’s international status is more secure than ever. The prestige of this prize, however, serves to shore up its own institutional capital, citing Ishiguro’s allegedly universal humanism to do so while belying the kind of critical work that his novels actually carry out. This essay reads When We Were Orphans (2000), set between the turn of the twentieth century and the Second World War and focused on the opium trade in Shanghai, to show how the novel critically engages with the neocolonial conditions of its present. Read in light of Paul Gilroy’s notion of “postcolonial melancholia,” I argue that Ishiguro’s novel intervenes in the economic abuses afforded by unregulated multinational capitalism—structures that reflect the continuing legacies of colonialism itself—and that, ultimately, the novel locates alternative future forms of international belonging from within the degradations of an exploitative colonial history.

Publication Title

Critique - Studies in Contemporary Fiction