Kazuo Ishiguro: Swinging Into the Past

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan and has been brought up Britain. He carries both his identities very well. He keeps swinging into the past and to his roots in his novels and stories. He has a good reason for doing so. He prefers to represent the culturally displaced, migrated generation and project them internationally. His novels are not for Japanese or the English world but for the global audience where everyone is displaced and disassociated with their past geographically, culturally or psychologically. He truly is one of the brilliant writers of the post globalization world.

The true brilliance of Kazuo Ishiguro came into limelight with his first novel A Pale View of the Hills. Here was a sensitive author who was telling a tale on the backdrop of Nagasaki bombing but instead of dwelling on actual horror of bombing or rebuilding of the city he chose to talk about broken souls and desperate attempts by people to rebuild their lives. It was as though destruction had given them a new life. His characters tried desperately to sever all ties with the past and move away seeking new identity in new land and freedom from regressive culture. Their conflicts are at multiple levels but conflict with self is the most agonizing of them all.

The protagonist of the novel, Etsuko is a Japanese woman who loses her family in Nagasaki bombing. She marries son of the family who looks after her. Eventually she deserts her conservative authoritarian Japanese husband and settles down in Britain with a British man. She brings along her reluctant elder daughter and gives birth to another one in Britain. She does get freedom from identity and duties of Japanese housewife but she remains a housewife and a mother always trying to put everything before her own interests.  Her only assertive decision of shifting out of Japan too gnaws at her when her elder reclusive depressed daughter commits suicide. With husband already dead and tragic death of daughter she starts looking into her past and her decisions. She tried to find some answers.  She desperately tries to connect to her second daughter who is rooted in Britain and chooses free life over domesticated one.

What is intriguing about the novel is the narrative. Etsuko doesn’t look back at her own life but narrates memories of a mother and daughter she had met in Nagasaki. She narrates their story which has many parallels to her own life and the choices she made. Only in the end she becomes the protagonist of the story she is telling her daughter.

Kazuo Ishiguro handled complex issues such as mother-daughter relationships, role of women in a family in different cultures and the freedom they seek from stereotypes. He also looked at the broken psyches of people post Hiroshima-Nagasaki.  The displacement of his characters is at all levels – geographical, cultural and psychological. Something that is so true in modern life.

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