Kazuo Ishiguro Ishiguro, Kazuo (Vol. 27) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kazuo Ishiguro 1954?–

Japanese novelist and short story writer.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki and grew up in England. His debut novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982), has drawn favorable response from critics who describe his writing as subtle, graceful, and full of promise.

A Pale View of Hills focuses on the private despair of Etsuko, a young woman who survived the bombing of Nagasaki and moved to England after the war. In a broader sense, the bombing symbolizes the loss of a culture and the alienation of a people trying to cope with the modern world.

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A Pale View of Hills depicts the] present-day troubles and dark memories of Etsuko, a Nagasaki woman now living alone in England—in a strongly moody but ineffectually structured first novel. Etsuko is now alone, divorced; one daughter, Keiko, has committed suicide; the other, Niki, English-born, lives unmarried with a man in London. And these very un-Japanese social circumstances direct Etsuko's musings back to the time in Nagasaki, a year or so after the Bomb, when things started to unravel…. [Even] more disturbing [is the] anarchic story of Etsuko's friend Sachiko—who accepted the lies and evasions of an American boyfriend, even though this led to the horrendous maltreatment of her little girl, Mariko. (Mariko, emotionally battered by neglect, wandered the canals at night, unmissed, a walking symbol of victimized Nagasaki.) Throughout the novel there's a distant overtone of destruction hovering—pieces of lives that can never be rejoined. But Ishiguro, who writes in English, pulls things seriously out of kilter with … bad weighting of flashback/flashforward technique: the doses of memory are numbing, hard to swim free from when the book attempts to pitch ahead into the present. And the result is evocative but oppressively unfocused fiction.

A review of "A Pale View of Hills," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1982 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 4, February 15, 1982, p. 224.

James Campbell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of Kazuo Ishiguro's themes … is the conflict between the traditional and the modern worlds. [In A Pale View of Hills] it is set against the background of the bombing of Nagasaki…. I first came across Mr Ishiguro's work in Faber's Introduction 7, where his story 'A Strange and Sometimes Sadness' impressed me as the work of a delicate and imaginative mind. A Pale View of Hills certainly fulfils the promise. The narrator is a middle-aged Japanese woman who, having lived through the bombing, is now resident in England. Her narrative switches in time between the present and the period just after the war, when the dust raised by the bomb is still very much in the air, and when she was in the role of a subservient wife. In the eyes of everyone, and in all senses, she appears to have survived. Nothing is necessarily as it seems, however; the terrible events prove to have had more than just a physically destructive effect, and Mr Ishiguro's double-barrelled narrative device enables him to show the past determining the present. In Etsuko's present life as much as in her past, she is encircled by a chain of death which has its beginning in the war. The Japanese sections centre around some mysterious killings and Etsuko's uneasy relationship with her friend's daughter; things begin to look sinister when, in the present, she starts dreaming about a little girl 'swinging'. What is most impressive about this novel is the way in which the author manages to blend the historical and psychological dimensions, so that his protagonist is a creation of her times. It is all done with subtlety, but if there is a fault it is that the incidental detail is not sufficiently filled in. Some characters are rather faceless, and the dialogue is vapid in places. Perhaps after this fine first novel, Kazuo Ishiguro will risk a little more in the realm of style.

James Campbell, "Kitchen Window," in New Statesman (© 1982 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 103, No. 2657, February 19, 1982, p. 25.∗

Paul Bailey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kazuo Ishiguro has written a first novel of uncommon delicacy. A Pale View of Hills is an extremely quiet study of extreme emotional turbulence, which summons up the various nightmares of a survivor of Nagasaki in a manner that will probably perplex those readers who like to swallow their horrors whole or enjoy being told the worst, at length. It is not Ishiguro's intention to "do" Nagasaki, as other novelists have recently "done" Buchenwald and Babi Yar. Far from it; his commitment in this book is to a private desolation, and he honours that commitment to the letter….

The greater part of A Pale View of Hills takes place during that immediately post-war summer in Nagasaki. Etsuko remembers a woman called Sachiko, who lives with her daughter, Mariko, in a wooden cottage that "had survived both the devastation of the war and the government bulldozers". Sachiko is to all intents and purposes a vagrant, ekeing out an existence on the money she scrounges off gullible people like her new friend, Etsuko. She has immense pride, and cannot disguise the fact that she was born considerably higher up the social scale than her present life would indicate. Etsuko is intrigued by this aloof and elegant outcast and her strangely alienated offspring, and allows herself to be used by Sachiko for their benefit. Sachiko, with her talk of the American lover, Frank, who is soon going to return to the United States with a Japanese wife and...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Francis King

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although Mr Ishiguro has spent most of his life in England and has even acquired an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, [A Pale View of Hills] is typically Japanese in its compression, its reticence and in its exclusion of all details not absolutely essential to its theme. It might, one feels, be some apprentice work by Kawabata or Endo, its dialogue rendered slightly stilted by translation. It is a memorable and moving work, its elements of past and present, of Japan and England held together by a shimmering, all but invisible net of images linked to each other by filaments at once tenuous and immensely strong. (pp. 24-5)

Francis King, "Shimmering," in The Spectator (© 1982 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 248, No. 8016, February 27, 1982, pp. 24-5.

Edith Milton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["A Pale View of Hills"] is narrated by a Japanese woman, Etsuko, who, like the author, was born in Nagasaki and lives in England. Widowed by the death of her second, English, husband, and mourning the suicide of her first, Japanese, daughter, Etsuko finds herself recalling random moments of a summer in Nagasaki during the 1950's. It was the summer of her brief, enigmatic friendship with Sachiko, the woman next door, and the time of her meeting with Sachiko's disturbing and troubled child, Mariko….

Etsuko's memories, though they focus on her neighbor's sorrows and follies, clearly refer to herself as well. The lives of the two women run parallel, and Etsuko, like Sachiko, has raised a deeply disturbed daughter; like her, she has turned away from the strangling role of traditional Japanese housewife toward the West, where she has discovered freedom of a sort, but also an odd lack of depth, commitment and continuity.

Still, this is no indictment of the unhappy changes which have drowned an old culture. In fact, Kazuo Ishiguro suggests that the honor of the past was itself more than a little tarnished…. As for the future, it appears to belong to Etsuko's second daughter, Niki, a hybrid of East and West, loyal to nothing, attached to no one, ignorant and disorganized; she is also, however, entirely honest and admirably free of prejudices and compulsions. She may, the book suggests, be the best of an indifferent...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Penelope Lively

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The impact of A Pale View of Hills … is out of all proportion to both its length and its slight plot. The narrator, Etsuko, resident in England, recalls her relationship with another woman in Nagasaki many years before, and the odd and slightly sinister events surrounding it; her recollections take place during a visit from her daughter by her English husband, her elder, Japanese, daughter having recently committed suicide. The daughter leaves; the recollection ends without any actual completion of the brief tale of the mother and child with whom it is concerned. And the novel finishes on a dying fall that is both unsettling and a little baffling—which indeed has been its effect throughout. For its strength...

(The entire section is 540 words.)