Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publishing Date: 2017
Number of Pages: 183
The highly acclaimed first novel by the author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Go, A Pale View of Hills is the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman, now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her eldest daughter. In a story where past and present confuse in a haunting and sometimes macabre way, she relives scenes of Japan’s devastation in the wake of World War II, even as she recounts the weirdness and calamities of her own life.
Kazuo Ishiguro was a name that barely rang a bell then. I had no iota on who he is and what he writes about. That was until I saw how book buyers tried to outdo each other in buying his works, especially A Pale View of Hills. I also kept on encountering his works on list challenges, hence, my resolve to try reading his works.
As fate had it, I found it difficult availing copies of his works but luckily I was able to purchase An Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day, and The Buried Giant. Unfortunately, A Pale View of Hills remained elusive until Ishiguro’s declaration as the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Literature winner. Publishers have reprinted his works, and I was fortunate enough to purchase the only copy of A Pale View of Hills I saw in a bookstore. For it not to gather more dusts, I read it with relish in the same year that Ishiguro won the Nobel Peace Prize.
A Pale View of Hills is a nostalgia-laden flash back of Etsuko, a Japanese mother living in England. She was dealing with the unexpected death of her eldest child, Keiko. Upon seeing a child playing on the swing, she was drawn back to post-war Nagasaki. She was then pregnant with Keiko’s when she encountered Mariko and her daughter, Etsuko. Mariko moved from Tokyo and was frowned upon by the other locals but Etsuko was able to establish an unusual friendship with her.
Using his signature narrative style of connecting the reader with the characters, Ishiguro was able to relate the story of Etsuko’s motherhood. His grounded writing style is filled with emotions that stirs the reader to a heightened sense of literary appreciation. There is just something about East Asian authors that draws the depth of human emotions. A Pale View of Hills reeked of this, as well.
The depth of the writing style complimented the depth of the story that Etsuko is relating. The reader is gripped to a melancholic yet wonderful story of a budding mother who is caught in the clash of Oriental and Western culture that was instigated by the surrender of Japan during the Second World War. In the advent of changes that was brought about by Japan’s defeat, change was inevitable within the horizon but not everyone was receptive of this change.
Although the story is mainly about Etsuko and motherhood, there were rich undertones about the shift from Oriental ideologies to Westernized schools of thoughts. At numerous points in the story, the characters were locked in deep thoughts and arguments about their conflicting beliefs. Such an array of subject matters argued upon included Japan’s education system and Japan’s patriarchal structure.
Symbolically, there were three groups of Japanese represented in the story. One group iwascomposed of those who were receptive of these new ideologies such as Sachiko and Shigeo Matsuda. The second group was composed of those who want to preserve the old culture and resist the adaptation of the modernized ideologies. This group included Etsuko’s father-in-law, Mr. Ogata and Mrs. Fujiwara. The last group neither agreed nor disagreed with the Westernization of Japan. This group had the task of maintaining peace and harmony amongst their countrymen and countrywomen. I just admired how subtly yet richly these undertones were weaved into the tapestry of the story.
The thing that has drawn me into the story is its powerful narrative and wonderful pacing. In spite of its heavy themes, it was still a pleasurable read. However, there were some details that were left unresolved, left for me to conclude. The jump between the Nagasaki Etsuko and England Etsuko was too glaring that some details were left to the imagination of the readers.
What happened to Etsuko’s first husband, Jiro? How did Etsuko meet her second husband? What happened to Sachiko and Mariko? These were just among the many unsettled questions that were in want of response. Come to think of it, this was pretty consistent with his fellow East Asian writer’s inclination for unsettled story lines. This, I surmise is their way of involving the readers in the story-telling process.
Nonetheless, I still tip my hats off to Kazuo Ishiguro for his masterful narrative that appealed to the reader’s inner senses on many levels. Through A Pale View of Hills, he clearly established himself as a top caliber writer. He established a pattern of his storytelling which he used in his succeeding works. Ishiguro is a wonderful storyteller and his name precedes him. His first work, albeit his fifth work that I have read, makes me look forward to reading his other works.
For now, happy reading!
Recommended for: light readers looking for a leisurely read that appeals to the inner senses; those who like books about nostalgia and flashbacks.
Not recommended for those who find East Asian literature nauseating for its nostalgic themes.
About The Author
Kazuo Ishiguro was born on November 8, 1954 in post-nuclear bomb Nagasaki, Japan. In 1960, his family moved to Guildford, Surrey, England as his father, a physical oceanographer, was invited for research at the National Institute of Oceanography. In 1978, he graduated with degrees in English and Philosophy from the University of Kent.
At the University of East Anglia, he took his masters and studied with esteemed writers Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. In 1980, he gained a Master of Arts in Creative Writing. His thesis was published as his first novel in 1982 (A Pale View of Hills). His succeeding works got him nominated for the Man Booker Prize Award four times and in 1989, he won one for The Remains of the Day. His 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, was named by Time Magazine as the best novel of the year. His latest work, Buried Giant, was published in 2015.
Ishiguro’s work has been translated into forty languages and has won him many honors, including the Order of the British Empire for service to literature, and the French decoration Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2017 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
He is currently living in London with his wife, Lorna MacDougall and their daughter, Naomi.