Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A PALE VIEW OF HILLS by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Japanese woman, Etsuko, whose oldest daughter Keiko has just committed suicide, narrates this novel.  Etsuko now lives in London, and her second daughter has come to visit after the funeral.  However, most of the novel takes place in flashback to Nagasaki, just after WWII.  Etsuko remembers a time when she was pregnant with Keiko and became friends with another woman, Sachiko, and her daughter Mariko.  Mariko is a troubled child, for several reasons, and Sachiko doesn’t seem interested in setting boundaries for Mariko’s behavior.  Etsuko is a bit stunned by Sachiko’s nonchalance, but Sachiko claims that she has her daughter’s best interests at heart always and suggests that Etsuko will understand when she has a child of her own.  Etsuko is skeptical of Sachiko’s parenting style, but we get only a very brief glimpse of her interaction with Keiko near the end of the novel, and the author describes that incident in an unexpected manner.  In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll reread those couple of pages several times to make sense of them and question exactly what it is that you’ve just read.  This section is one of my two favorites in the book.  The other is also late in the novel, when Etsuko’s father-in-law argues with a younger scholar about Japan’s role in the war.  I don’t know if their opposing views are typical, but in this case and on this topic there seems to be a wide generation gap.  The tone of the novel is somber, and it feels like a translation but isn’t.  The dialog is odd, particularly when Etsuko berates her father-in-law and when characters repeat sentences, perhaps for emphasis.  Savor this tender debut novel by a Nobel prize-winner.

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