Tag Archives: kazuo ishiguro

‘The Remains of the Day’, by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ask anyone and you will find everyone has something to talk about life with natural octaves from the highest note to the lowest and best registrar recorded over the vicissitudes of life as if living an ordinary life without a material curriculum vitae were a sign of defeatism synonymous with rootlessness. More often than not, a straightforwardly elliptical, honest-to-goodness narrative is not considered a smashing subject matter for a bestseller that merits an entire aisle of any bookseller, but the story of English butler Stevens shoehorns his ordinary work experience into a suitably fashionable stance for a modern-day memoir that reads like a continual fugue of flattering hopes, misguided beliefs, despotic self-denials, cruel disappointments, and smothered pleasures, all elegantly interwoven into a polyphony of life in The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Moment of Reckoning Stevens falls into, pace the general opinion of the mass, results not from his disillusioned loyalty toward Nazi sympathizer Lord Darlington but from his own disoriented value and belief systems in accordance with the changing zeitgeist in the wake of the two great wars. Lord Darlington epitomized what dignity and magnanimity meant to Stevens in a way that his position as a butler was as equally prestigious and sovereign as that of his aristocratic employer Lord Darlington, a figure of respectful English peerage that deserved of his dedication and devotion. It’s really a case of ‘Qualis rex, talis glex,’ meaning “As is the king, so is the people.” And it was this belief system that made Stevens endure occupational humiliation from arrogant guests of high birth, the grief of the death of his father, and tender feelings toward Ms. Kenton, a former head housekeeper at the Darlington Mansion. In fact, such belief system based on seemingly antediluvian values in the post-modern era was Stevens’ lifeline that had kept him going until he took a trip to see now married Ms. Kenton, a kind of Beatrice-like figure guiding Dante from Hell and Purgatory to Paradise.

Stevens’s existential dilemma stems from his existential vertigo in the aftermath of the wars and the subsequent social changes that upended the foundations of the collective value and belief systems of society. Stevens’s inner world was put into an existential vacuum, a void that can only be filled by a sense of purpose and new attitudes toward life in search of finding meaning therein. Rather than bemoaning his life as a boring butler, Stevens kept trying to find meaning in what he had been doing, what he was still doing, and what he would do by asking himself the question of his own life to which only he could answer; that is, to a life he could only respond by being responsible. And it was not a reactionary response with his fists clenched in bitterness and a sprit of French Revolution against the privileged few, but his own examination of his life that felt a void in a sense of direction in life.

Kazuo Ishiguro created a character whose existential dilemma is relatable and pitiable with his mastery of characterization, the wealth of imaginations, and study of human nature, in his signature elliptical narrative skills laced with nuanced emotions that never lay the whole character bare to the eyes of the public. He’s a fantastic writer who shows readers that a good writer is capable of travel and metamorphoses no matter where he was born or what he looks like. I wonder how many writers tried to break free from their biological planes and even dreamed about being who they wanted to be, confidently and naturally crossing the boundaries of culture and race just as Ishiguro did without branding his Japanese cultural and Asian traits as a convenient foundation for suitably fashionable “ethnic” literature. All in all, this is a fascinating book to observe how social changes can affect an individual and how one copes with such historic and cultural juggernauts in search of meaning in life. This book is a testament to the magical craft of writing that a writer should be all that he is capable of becoming no matter who he is. For a writer is also a magician of words, a wondrous sort of shapeshifter in letters.

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‘A Pale View of Hills’, by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

A Pale View of HillsA Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being biliterate and bicultural gives a writer a magical third eye to look into the universality of truth of humanity, the commonality of the standard of sentiments and judgment, under a veneer of anthropological ramifications of tribalism. It’s something of a textual witchcraft of the writer to see through the minds of one culture and the other and to conjure up One Whole Mind in the peculiar alchemy of literature. However, it’s a tricky craft that requires consummate narrative skills without infelicity of awkward expressions. That is why A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro, an English writer born in and moved from Nagasaki, Japan at the age of five, reigns supreme as a master storyteller in a class of his own writing that holds the curiosity of the reader throughout this mysteriously haunting and enduring story of a woman living in the blurry boundary of the past and the present.

Told by a first protagonist narrator named Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in an English countryside alone, it is a continual fugue of recollections, ironies, visions, and imaginations translated into an elliptical and atmospheric elegy of a woman with the feeling of being adrift on a life sea, trying to come to terms with a surrendering of the past that binds her to the memories of the calamities and absurdities all by herself in a land that shares no common history of her own. In fact, Etsuko’s narrative becomes her own story house, her own Mathom House, a museum of mental paraphernalia filled with the flotsam washed up by the past. All the apparatus therein is the detritus of her convoluted residues of all the memories of Japan, devastated by the calamities of World War II that has become part of her. The result of her story is a spiritual effect of exorcising a knocking spirit in the house that wanted to possess her body and mind altogether locked up in the feelings of guilt, regret, disappointment, and frustration.

Drawing on a wealth of imaginations based upon his own cultural backgrounds, Ishiguro creates a polyphonic work that elegantly interweaves multiple strands of historical, spiritual, and cultural contexts into a wholly solipsistic experience with his cracking narrative skills worth the reading. The best of all, Ishiguro writes with an intention to tell a story of an individual with whom the reader can associate or is familiar in daily life. His characters are felt real, and the words he employs are fluid and elliptical. Which is to say that his world of literature is quite existential but also imaginative. Just as Charlotte Bronte pronounced her identity as a”writer” not as a “woman writer” on her authorship of Jane Eyre, Ishiguro is an English writer whose subjects are universal and common to all as regards the principle of sentiments and reason. Nothing is alienating but everything is encompassing, which is why this book is appealing to the reader.