It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down. Thankfully my lovely friend Sam gifted me with another masterpiece by Kazuo Ishiguro for my birthday:
Having spent the last few months reading on a Kindle, this paperback copy reminded me why print was (and always will be) my love. Not only my first, but actually, perpetually my love. I missed being able to bring books to the bathroom, inserting one hurriedly between other accessories in my bag, leaving it carelessly on the bed without the fear of its pages being crushed, turning each page and having the smell of new pages wafting into my nose, and being able to fold the spine as the plot gets thicker. I experienced the book in all its print glory–not merely appreciating it at a distance from a screen. I’m a book reader, a former newspaper writer, and currently a magazine editor-slash-writer–now I wonder why I readily welcomed the digital format of the kindle.
Couple this reader high with the subtle yet vibrant prose of Ishiguro, and my love affair for print was truly rekindled (no pun intended).
A Pale View of Hills is set in post-World War II Japan, particularly in Nagasaki, where residents are struggling to rebuild their lives after the bomb’s disastrous aftermath. The story’s narrator, Etsuko, recalls her post-war life from the comforts of her now home, England. Etsuko’s recall of the past brought me back to my passion for Ishiguro’s language. You would expect pain and devastation in Etsuko’s recounting of events–instead, you feel as if you are reading yellowed postcards written by an old friend, who is simply telling stories of an age you are too young to have lived through. You are merely there as an observer, yet you can’t take your senses away from what is happening in front of you. Etsuko pulled me in as an observer as she recounted her friendship with a woman named Sachiko. Sachiko is an odd addition to post-war Nagasaki’s community, and what makes her even more interesting is her relationship with her daughter, Mariko. As Etsuko gets to know this mother-daughter tandem, she is carrying her first child. It is through her responsibilities as a typical Japanese housewife, conversations with Sachiko and Mariko, and her relationship with her family that Ishiguro slowly unwinds the difficult conditions of their existence.
Although I have only read Never Let Me Go and When We Were Orphans, I would rate A Pale View of Hills as one of Ishiguro’s finest from the three. When I found out it was his first novel, I was even more shocked that it became my favorite among them. I was very disappointed by When We Were Orphans, after being quite impressed by Never Let Me Go. This book reminded me why I love his writing in the first place: it’s his ability to set you into another world. But that world isn’t quite distant from your own, yet you still feel like you are else where. You are flying above the world, observing, yet still able to fly down and see what the environment has to offer.
The air of mystery and creepy undertones of Sachiko and Mariko’s relationship made the book a page turner. There were so many questions unfolding in my head as I got deeper into the plot, and as more events posed more questions, I kept on going just to know.
And by the time I reached the end, I was still asking why. But then I remembered a small clue that made everything clear, yet the answers still left me shocked and not quite sure how to come to grips with the “ending.” I went back to the previous pages, searching for more clues. At the same time, it didn’t sink in that the book was over–I wasn’t quite ready to let Ishiguro’s words go (no pun intended). It felt like he broke up with me from a long distance problem or he left me without any notice.
Such is the power of Ishiguro at his finest. I suggest you immerse yourself in his worlds. Be warned: getting away will take some resolve.