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Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Pale View of Hills (1982) by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Review
A Pale View of Hills (1982)
 by Kazuo Ishiguro

   Ishiguro was the child of two parents who moved from Japan to England when he was young.  He wrote in English, and his great hit, Remains of the Day, was about as English as novels get.   A Pale View of Hills was his first novel, and it is a book closer to Japan than England in terms of the themes, the novel equivalent of an Ozu film with Gothic overtones. The plot concerns the reminisces of Etsuko, a widowed(?) Japanese woman living in the English countryside.  She is visited by her London dwelling daughter, Niki, the child of Etsuko and her English husband, and they discuss the death of Keiko, Niki's sister and Etsuko's daughter, by suicide, in the recent past.

  These episodes are interspersed with lengthy flashbacks to post World War II Nagasaki, where Estuko remembers her friend, Sachiko and her daughter Mariko, who would have been the same age as Keiko.  The actual reality of Sachiko and Mariko is in doubt, and it becomes clear that Etsuko is a classic "unreliable narrator" who may or may not be fabricating all or some of her story.  Specifically, it becomes possible that Etsuko may be remembering her own life in the guise of Sachiko.  This possibility is outlined by the heavily Japanese modes of communication between characters (which is still be written, in English.)  The extreme deference and refusal to forthrightly address emotions lead the reader to consider that Estuko can not bear to remember the truth of her experience in Nagasaki, and she has created Sachiko as a vessel.

 Of course, it's also possible to read A Pale View of Hills straight, and it is still good on that level, creepy, eerie, and illuminating about the domestic culture of post World War II Japan in the same way as the 1950's and 60's films of Ozu.

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