Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

My mind is pensive today, reflecting on my trip to Texas to see Jim's family. I didn't get too much stitching done though I did finish one of those Fetching fingerless gloves before running out of yarn...Unlike the pattern suggests, I was not able to finish a pair with one skein of Debbie Bliss' Cashmerino Aran. I did bead a little on my November BJP and hope to work on it more today.

While I was gone, I read my November book for the 1% Well-Read Challenge and the story has haunted me for a few days. It was a rather short book of 180 or so pages and I was able to finish it in those early morning hours before the rest of the house woke up.

A Pale View of Hills was written by Kazuo Ishiguro whose family emigrated to Great Britain in 1960 when he was six years old. Ishiguro grew up and was educated in Britain and has achieved many literary awards for his fiction. A Pale View of Hills was his first novel and won the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Prize for the best first novel of 1982 . He later went on to write other award-winning novels including The Remains of the Day which was made famous to me by actors Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the wonderful movie released in 1993. Though I have not yet read the book, I am eager to read it now that I finished A Pale View of Hills.

The book is a story about Etsuko, a Japanese woman who grew up in Nagasaki after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Etsuko marries a Japanese man and has a daughter, Keiko. Etsuko leaves her first husband, emigrates to Britain with an English serviceman who she later marries and with whom she has her second daughter, Niki. At the opening of the novel, Etsuko is widowed and middle-aged. Her daughter, Niki is visiting her after Keiko, the oldest daughter, has committed suicide by hanging herself in a London apartment.

The book does not have a typical beginning, middle and end but flows from present day through the dreams and memories of Etsuko's past while living one Summer in Nagasaki. Much of her memory deals with her friendship and infatuation with a woman named Sachiko and her odd, anti-social daughter, Mariko. There are many similarities between the lives of Sachiko and the lives of Etsuko and the reader is left to wonder whether the story of Sachiko and her daughter Mariko is actually the story of Etsuko and her daughter Keiko.

I like this sort of novel...the kind where memory blends indistinctly with experience, with dreams and with reality. One is never quite sure if Sachiko and her daughter Mariko are a metaphor for Etsuko and her oldest daughter Keiko...but I believe it to be so.

Sachiko's daughter Mariko is an unusual child who doesn't play with other children, doesn't go to school, and often runs away from her mother. Her mother is equally as odd in my opinion and often abandons her daughter for hours at a time to spend time with an American GI named "Frank". Emotionally, Sachiko does not act like much of a mother at all though she does manage to feed and clothe her daughter. The story gets very macabre when Sachiko drowns her daughter's kittens. Etsuko, who witnesses the incident, shows no emotion at all which is the first time when I realized this story is not linear and I began to wonder...what's really going on here??

There are a number of occasions where the girl Mariko runs away, and Sachiko, her mother, seems nonchalant about finding her. Instead, it is Etsuko who searches for her at different times throughout the novel. When she finds the girl, she is often afraid of Etsuko and keeps asking her why she is dragging a rope that is wrapped around her foot...Invariably, Etsuko says that somehow it's just a piece of rope that has gotten caught around her foot while she has been looking for the girl...It smacks of the macabre and is more than a little eerie since it is metaphorical for the rope that Etsuko's daughter uses to hang herself.

There is lots to think about with this book: the indirectness of the novel is very indicative of the Japanese way of speaking; the cultural changes that occured in Japan post-atom bomb are wonderfully portrayed in the characters of Nagasaki; the emotions of guilt and betrayal are hinted at and suggested only in the macabre dreams and memories of Etsuko --- It's really quite brilliantly written but not the kind of book you should pick up and put down -- it really should be read in one or two sittings for full effect.

I will definitely go on to read The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans by the same author since I'm now very curious about his style of writing. Next up on my list for the 1% Well-Read Challenge is A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul. V.S Naipaul has won the Nobel Prize for literature and is also an emigrant to Great Britain. Hmm.....


allie aller said...

I can see how you would really appreciate this book, having lived in Japan...
...I don't read sad books so much anymore. I don't like sad movies either....I've had enough sadness for one life!

Lisa Boni said...

A couple more book suggestions for you, since you liked "A Pale View of Hills". I also liked the books, "Plum Wine" by Angela Davis-Gardener ~ and, The Samurai's Garden" by Gail Tsukiyama. Both lingered in my mind for a long time after reading!

Debra Dixon said...

I agree with Allie--not much into sadness lately. Not much into books either, but that's another matter!

Barbara C said...

What an intriguing story. Michael recently read Remains and really liked it, and I love the movie. I'll have to put this one on my to-read list.

Judy S. said...

We loved that movie also, and I enjoyed your book review. I'm working on a pair of "Fetching" since you posted the pattern link and it looks iffy about the yarn amt. The pattern said to undo your swatch to make ends meet, so I got 2 balls of yarn. That yarn sure knits up nicely! But I wish there was just a tad more in each skein..... Oh, and one thing I noticed is that needle sizes aren't consistent. My sz. six are 4.24mm while an old pair of 5's are 4mm....a good case for swatching, I guess!

Leena Francis said...

I read Ishiguro's " Pale Veiw of Hills" and the layers of meaning it leaves open for the reader to discoverleft me stunned.

Yes it does seem sometimes that Schiko's and Mariko's story is really the story of Estuko and Mariko.

The bit about the rope occurs twice in the story with both children.

It is macabre and chilling-- the image of the woman drowing her baby that haunts Mariko, Sachiko neglecting Mariko and leaving her alone for hours, her strange expression when she finds Mariko one night on the other side of the river bank lying bundled under a tree, the cat that disapprears when they move fromt he house ( that has a pond) in Tokyo... the drowning of the kittens, Mariko's fear of rope around Estuko's foot and also Keiko's fear of the rope once again around Estuko's foot. Did Sachiko want an accident to happen to Mariko? Did Mariko sense this ? The mother who could kill her child is the woman Mariko sees again and again.... is it symbolic of how Mariko sees her own mother.

It is a haunting story. I had to start reading it immediately I finished it once to see what I would discover on reading it again...

Michelle Fluttering Butterflies said...

I've heard so many things about Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day that I'd almost forgotten he's written other books. I'll look out for this one, thank you for the review.

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Keith said...


Just read your piece about a Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro. Very interesting. I so like Ishiguro and for years have thought the same as you that Sachiko and Mariko are a metaphor for Ersuko and Keiko.I lived in Japan for several years and as with things Japanese Ishiguro's work is always an enigma!

In the second to last chapter there are a few clues where she says to Mariko "if you don't like it over there, WE can always come back" and again - "Yes, I promise", "But WE have to try it and see if WE like it there. I'm sure we will".

Why would she use the word "WE" and not you or Sachiko and you or even your Mother and you.

I have read the book several times and looked for clues such as this. There are other bits that point this way.

I was pleased to find that someone felt the same way. Thank you for your Blog.

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