(Sidharth Vardhan’s review of
‘A pale view of hills’ a novel by
2017 Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguru (1954-)
The novel first published in 1982
Review first written on March 26, 2018
(4 / 5))
In his highly acclaimed debut, A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. Retreating into the past, she finds herself reliving one particular hot summer in Nagasaki, when she and her friends struggled to rebuild their lives after the war. But then as she recalls her strange friendship with Sachiko – a wealthy woman reduced to vagrancy – the memories take on a disturbing cast.
“Niki, the name we finally gave my younger daughter, is not an abbreviation; it was a compromise I reached with her father. For paradoxically it was he who wanted to give her a Japanese name, and I — perhaps out of some selfish desire not to be reminded of the past — insisted on an English one.”Kazuo Ishiguru
Etsuko doesn’t like to talk or even think about her past, the time of world war 2 when she was in Nagasaki. It is the central theme of the book having to deal with gloomy and dark past (the world war and nuclear bombs) while building the future, whether you are talking about Japan or at the individual level:
“That’s no way to bring a child into the world, visiting the cemetery every week.”Kazuo Ishiguru
This is just one of the ways the people in the novel deal with the past – her friend, Sachiko, must keep on reassuring her that she has nothing to feel guilty about in marrying an American man and leaving for States (which she too is doing for her daughter’s future). Her father-in-law is troubled by the Japanese adoption of American values. There is that whole generation gap thing – but I guess nothing widens that gap like war, from a generation of old ways (father-in-law) to a generation, lost to war (Etsuko and Sachiko) to the generation that was born in or around war times (Keiko) to the generation that is alien to their parents’ sufferings (Nikki).
This is difference between dates of generations is common motif (though not most obvious) in all Ishiguru books I have read but this one also shows characters who have other forms of prejudice then prevalent whether it be Japanese prejudice against women:
“My wife votes for Yoshida just because he looks like her uncle. That’s typical of women. They don’t understand politics. They think they can choose the country’s leaders the same way they choose dresses.”Kazuo Ishiguru
Or western prejudice against Japanese (arising out of Kamikaze strikes?):
“The English are fond of their idea that our race has an instinct for suicide, as if further explanations are unnecessary; for that was all they reported, that she was Japanese and that she had hung herself in her room.”Kazuo Ishiguru
There are usual ‘memory’ tricks that only Proust and Ishiguru can pull as far as I am concerned (Banville and Barnes failed to impress).
“Memory, I realize, can be an unreliable thing; often it is heavily coloured by the circumstances in which one remembers, and no doubt this applies to certain of the recollections I have gathered here.”Kazuo Ishiguru
And finally, my favorite quote:
“I have found myself continually bringing to mind that picture — of my daughter hanging in her room for days on end. The horror of that image has never diminished, but it has long ceased to be a morbid matter; as with a wound on one’s own body, it is possible to develop an intimacy with the most disturbing of things.”Kazuo Ishiguru
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Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan