I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I Flipped Through Kazuo Ishiguro's A PALE VIEW OF HILLS

Another Japanese authored book. There are two more posts on the way. Our book club, Flips Flipping Pages, discussed Japanese literature last March. And we had the liberty to choose any title for as long as it fell under the broad category of Japanese literature. I read 2 books before the discussion, and followed up my JapLit education with 2 more.

Thus far, the one thing I found that all these books had in common is: cats. Cats figure prominently in every piece of Japanese literature I have read. The last one I read, Norwegian Wood, almost did not meet this criteria. Then, near the end a cat named Seagull entered the picture. In A Pale View of Hills, the loathsome creatures play a central role, symbolizing dispensable relationships and responsibilities. People who know me know that I hate cats - the animal as well as the topic. So, let's move on.

I also noticed that Japanese authors like to tell their stories the way they serve their tea. Slowly, lyrically, patiently. Maybe a bit mysteriously. Testing your ability to sit still, an underdeveloped skill in this time when people and events move in the speed of light just to catch up. Storytelling that forces you to slow down, linger, hold your breath, and wait for something to happen. A Pale View of Hills is self-indulgent narration. By that I mean, the author asks you to indulge him, to patiently read through the long meandering thoughts, and you just hope that somehow, somewhere, some time in the novel, there is a point. Halfway through the book, I still had no idea what this was all about. You just simply make a decision to drop the book or just enjoy the narration and hope that it would be worth it.

It's a bit like walking through the forest; trees, shadows, and mist obscure the path, and you're not certain if it's going somewhere...ah wait, I'm doing that right now, am I not? I am waxing Ishiguroesque. Ah, I am so easily influenced by the things I read. Anyway, let's get on with it.

A Pale View of Hills is about Etsuko. Transplanted to London, recent events have made her recall a summer after the war, right back when she was in Japan. She was newly married, pregnant with her first child, and like her fellow Japanese, trying to rebuild a life.

Two sub-plots develop, One concerns her neighbor, Sachiko, a single mother obsessed, but not quite upfront, with the idea of finding greener pastures in another land. Kazuo's Ishiguro's use of dialogue hints without telling that this is a woman you can't trust.

Sachiko's story is interspersed with a seemingly unrelated story -- the conflict between Etsuko's husband and her father in law.

These 2 stories move in parallel lines, and how they come together and affect Etsuko's present eventually emerges at the end in a surprise twist that reveals how her past shaped her present. History repeats itself. The generation gap between Etsuko's husband and his father is echoed in the strained relationship between Etsuko and her daughter, Niki. This time, culture differences, as well as a generation gap, test their kinship.

After all that, yes, there is a point. But you do have to slow down to enjoy the telling. Kazuo's gift for description, characterization, and narration makes the slow meandering journey through the pale hills worth it.

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