I was following the Nobel Prize speculation with some real interest in the last few weeks. Very few people on the message board I frequent mentioned Kazuo Ishiguru as a possible winner this year, and even in any year. He is one of my favorite British writers and the novels of his I’ve read rank among my very favorite, especially Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day. I also really enjoyed The Buried Giant and When We Were Orphans.
I will likely read and review his remaining two before too long.
This novel ranks among the middle of his novels. It’s a very touching and strong novel with beautiful language, thoughtful characters, and some real pain.
We find ourselves hearing the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in the US after the war who daughter (born in Japan) has recently killed herself. She is taken back in her memory to the time of her pregnancy and her friendship and connection with another young woman with a young daughter. This connection is explored through it’s dark turns and pain, and through an exploration of hybrid culture, social class, friendship, and how privilege and agency function in Japan in the early 20th century.
Ishiguru functions in the interstices of memory and the small moments that contain the seeds of true meaning and understanding. It’s a painful story through all eras and it’s a painful exploration of how identity, culture, social class, race and gender interplay. It’s a small book, but it’s an amazingly good book.