Review: A Pale View Of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills traverses the Japanese post war landscape through an alternation of time and emotion. Present and past intertwine irregularly, as neither chapter has direct connection with the other, but like the aftermath of war, everything seems related.
By telling the story from the perspective of a mother who has lost almost every living member of her family, Ishiguro casts a dim lens on the subject of maternity. It is not until the end that one realizes these flashbacks and stories might all be a prescription for the death of Etsuko Sheringham's first daughter, Keiko. In every chapter focused on the past, Etsuko is pregnant, while in the present she and her living daughter Nikki live in awkward tension dancing around the subject of Keiko's suicide.
They say not to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes during pregnancy; side effects will hurt, damage, kill the unborn child. But what of the side effects of war. A country devastated by war. Are there side effects upon the unborn. Even in a world, decades after war, will side effects still haunt families. Death looms over people, and for the Japanese who live in the ways of the Shinto spirituality, the dead may not be so haunting. But what happens to those who have been colonized to the ways of Christianity?
I would not go as far as to call this novel a work of alternate history, although I would tickle the concept. This world ranges in the aftermath of an unnamed war, once with could easily lick the landscape of any country. It's residents are facing the constraints of pleasing their ancestors while paving the roads for global advancement and intermingling. As we as a species evolve, so shall our philosophies and our ethics; our very way of living will change as the melting pot of culture grows. Is it any longer acceptable to have strict traditions based in ethnicity or is tradition something which should be adapted to the the present. Does wiping away the unethical traditions of our past also wipe away identity - and if so, is that good or bad?
A dizzying of time mixed with the deep sadness of life and death. Ishiguro juxtaposes two literary perspectives of the concept of "mother"; one selfless and nurturing, while the other is absent and selfish. The ideas of nature and nurture, questions of suicide, and upbringing all glow in this simplistic novel full of subversive intensity.
The attitudes of characters whose pain surpassed the current living conditions shocked me. Conversations between characters all seemed superficial and repetitive; a novel full of small talk. It was not until I began to see the story more clearly that I saw these arbitrary conversations were also a side effect of a post war land - no one was comfortable to discuss because n one knew how to feel. Men who were no longer accepting the old traditions of education, still behaved with the old traditions of sexism and domestic abuse. Women who believed in maternal love, never gave themselves any. Mothers who wanted to find jobs, still battled the prejudice of their neighbors, and in turn abandonment towards their own families.
The past version of Etsuko is an observer who implements herself in the lives of her brief friend, Sachiko and her daughter Mariko. Mother and daughter are often in childish arguments and Sachiko ends up ignoring most of Mariko's behavior, chalking it up with childish facade. These flashbacks seem innocent but the more you read the more you realize they are all pushing Etsuko to take more action and although she describes herself in a shy and outsider way, one cannot actually know - she is never invited to help Sachiko and could actually be portrayed as an intruder, forcing her own maternal traditions onto another woman. These moments may either be a catalyst for Keiko, who resides in Etsuko's womb during these flashbacks, to be infected with depression - or negative "Kami".
I find that Etsuko in the present resembles the elderly mother quite well. She even occasionally reminds readers, in conversation, of her father-in-law from the past. He also danced around small talk in order to spend more time with his son - who was seemingly disgusted with his father, as Nikki seems to be in the beginning. Both versions of children come to their parents with only a superficial understanding of their parents lives - they have no idea what actually happened before their time, and only understand little of the events after. Like all human beings, we cannot possibly fully understand another human heart and soul and mind without some sort of desire to be open-minded.
A thread throughout the novel is the cat. Significance must be analyzed further but upon first reading, the cat seems so represent these individuals escape from death. A second chance. At times, the cats and kittens are the only moments of joy for Mariko, they are her future. When her mother kills them in the most horrifying way of drowning them in a locked cage which Mariko won for the cats, readers see the actual result of war. Mariko will never be happy, and like the cats, her mother will most likely be the cause of her fatality. Their journey to America will most likely never happen and the little girl is most likely being abused and or molested by her mothers alcoholic boyfriend. These details, I think, are left unstated in order to give readers a sort of relatability to the characters - a way to interpret for ourselves the worst case scenario - or best. There is so much more about the cats that I would like to analyze further.