Ishiguro is an Englishman of Japanese descent (he moved to England as a small child) whose two previous novels (A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World) featured Japanese characters; here, he breaks new ground with a slow-moving rumination on the world of the English country-house butler. For 35 years, Stevens was Lord Darlington's butler, giving faithful service. Now, in 1956, Darlington Hall has a new, American owner, and Stevens is taking a short break to drive to the West Country and visit Mrs. Benn, the housekeeper until she left the Hall to get married. The novel is predominantly flashbacks to the 20's and 30's, as Stevens evaluates his profession and concludes that "dignity" is the key to the best butlering; beyond that, a great butler devotes himself "to serving a great gentleman - and through the latter, to serving humanity." He considers he "came of age" as a butler in 1923, when he successfully oversaw an international conference while his father, also a butler, lay dying upstairs.