A Pale View of Hills

I recently finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, A Pale View of Hills. It was recommended to me by a friend from Australia, and it’s been on my list for years — but I just finally checked it out from the library. I’ve been enjoying Japanese fiction lately (two books by Hurami Murakami and now two books by Kazuo Ishiguro, all within the last year). The authors’ prose is clean and simple. Their dialogue is multi-leveled, with subtle cues to indicate messages behind the words. And I enjoy the gentle pacing of these novels. But with this particular book, I felt like the plot was hard to follow — and I finished the book with a feeling that it might be awhile before I pick up another piece of Japanese fiction.

The book is about a woman who came of age in the period immediately following the bombing of Nagasaki, at the end of the Second World War. She reflects on the early days of her marriage and motherhood, as an older woman relocated to England — and it takes a lot of inference to figure out exactly what happened along the way. But it seems to me that the central narrative of the book revolves around the way that the woman learns to take responsibility for herself and her newborn daughter, even as she’s given many examples of others dealing with the same responsibilities in different ways.

The part of this book that I enjoyed the most was its depiction of the relationship between Jiro and Ogata-San: the husband and the father-in-law of the main protagonist. They were minor characters, but the tensions in their relationship were depicted in a way that felt universal and insightful. I felt sympathy for both the father and the son — but more for the father, as the member of a dying generation whose brightest achievements are swept away by the “enlightened” thinking of the younger generation.

All in all, I’m not mad that I took the time to read this book, but I didn’t love it either.

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