A pale view of hills

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Paperback, 1990




New York : Vintage Books, 1990.


The story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. In a story where past and present confuse, she relives scenes of Japan's devastation in the wake of World War II.

Media reviews

A Pale View of Hills is eery and tenebrous. It is a ghost story, but the narrator, Etsuko, does not realize that. She is the widow of an Englishman, and lives alone and rather desolate in an English country house. Her elder daughter, Keiko, the child of her Japanese first husband, killed herself
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some years before. The novel opens during a visit from her younger daughter, Niki, the child of her English second husband. Etsuko recalls her past, but Niki, a brusque, emancipated Western girl, is not very sympathetic. Her visit is uncomfortable and uncomforting, and she cuts it short: not only because of the lack of rapport with her mother, but because she can't sleep. Keiko's unseen ghost keeps her awake.
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1 more
''A Pale View of Hills'' is Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel. Its characters, whose bursts of self-knowledge and honesty erase their inspired self-deceptions only briefly, are remarkably convincing. It is filled with surprise and written with considerable charm. But what one remembers is its balance,
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halfway between elegy and irony.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member g33kgrrl
Beautiful writing, as always. Thoughtful, contemplative. Unreliable. Figuring it out really isn't the point, feeling it is.
LibraryThing member siafl
This book feels like it's very well-written. It's a very poetic sort of read. But at the end of the day I feel a bit indifferent, perhaps because it went by too quickly. I wish it was a bit longer. A bit less of a hallucination. A bit less enigmatic and less of a tease. For much of the book I found
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myself wondering what it was going to be about. I thought it would be about the atomic bomb, then it turned out not to be. About the difference between East and West? I don't think there's enough in the book to suggest that it's about that. Difference in generations? Perhaps. The view on women in Japan? Depression? Ultimately there's a little bit about each of these things, but the thing that I take away seems to be some of the antisocial behaviours of Ishiguro's characters.

Undeniable, however, is that Ishiguro has beautiful prose. His ability to embed and imply his stories is great to read. Whether the narrator and Sachiko are one person I think is a question that the author has intentionally left unanswered. I tend to think they are, but don't think there's an absolute answer to it. Although, if Ishiguro hadn't had the intention he wouldn't have written the book the way it is.

... [Be] honest with yourself. In your heart of hearts, you must know yourself what I'm saying is true. And to be fair, you shouldn't be blamed for not realizing the true consequences of your action. Very few men could see where it was all leading at the time, and those men were put in prison for saying what they thought. But they're free now, and they'll lead us to a new dawn. (150)

I think the book is better than I realize. And the more I go over this quotation the more I think it is.
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LibraryThing member William345
This is a beautiful novel that calls for patient and careful reading. I admire the way it's constructed. The cares and concerns of three pairs of mothers and daughters are refracted off one another. The first two pair live near a resurgent Nagasaki sometime toward the end of the American Occupation
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of Japan, about 1951-52. Here the pregnant Etsuko, who narrates, lives with her husband Jiro, in a new concrete residential building along the river. From her window, across a stretch of wasteland, Etsuko can see, much closer to the river, an old cottage built in the traditional style. It is there that Sachiko and her daughter Mariko live. The third mother-daughter pair are in England of about 1980 or so. This pair is comprised of an older Etsuko and Niki, a daughter Etsuko has had by a second English-born husband. Another daughter, Keiko, fathered by Jiro, presumably the child Etsuko carries in the earlier timeframe, has recently committed suicide in her Manchester flat. Moreover, Etsuko's second husband has also died. (We never learn what became of Jiro.) So one can see why Etsuko is unreliable for reasons too traumatic to face. She has lived through the American bombing of Nagasaki, but her wounds are entirely psychological. She has lost much, but specifically what she has lost is never described, only intimated. Ishiguro's elliptical style seems fully mature here in his first novel. It's unquestionably the same one he uses in later works. The penultimate page contains what we might call the narrative atomic-bomb. On reading it this second time--my memory of the subtle story had grown hazy over the intervening years--I all but jumped from my chair. Brilliant stuff, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
A Pale View of Hills is Ishiguro's first novel and already you can see the subtle, enigmatic writer that always surprises.

This novel is narrated by Etsuko, a Japanese woman who is living alone in Britain. Her younger daughter, Niki, comes to visit her and this seems to spur all sorts of memories
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for her. Through these memories, portions of Etsuko's life are slowly and incompletely revealed. We learn that Etsuko lived in Japan during WWII and obviously experienced a lot of trauma, though there are no details revealed. She was married to a man name Jiro and had his child, Keiko, while she was in Japan. At some point she left him to move to Britain with a man, taking Keiko with her and later having Niki with the British man. We also learn that Keiko committed suicide. Etsuko's British husband has died and we never find out what happened to Jiro. All of these details are revealed subtlety and out of order, so it takes a while to piece together the story. It is all interspersed with Etsuko's memories of her interactions with a woman named Sachiko and her daughter Mariko. Etsuko at that point was married to Jiro and pregnant. She is judgmental of Sachiko's parenting and her decision to leave Japan to go to America with Frank, a man who does not seem very dependable.

There is definitely an "unreliable narrator" element to this book. Etsuko is damaged, not only from the war, but also by her daughter's suicide and probably her marriages as well. It is hard to tell how much truth we can take from her memories. And then there is a twist at the end (no surprise there to readers of Ishiguro's other novels) that makes the reader wonder how much of Sachiko's actions were really Sachiko's and how many of those actions were really Etsuko's actions projected on to Sachiko. It's all rather mysterious and haunting.

What I found interesting about this book is that as I was going along reading/listening I kind of kept wondering "where in the world is this going"? It is such a simple story and doesn't really seem to have a point - just the memories of an older woman that don't really tie together. But then in the last few minutes of the book, Ishiguro throws in a new idea and all of a sudden I want to read the book again with my eye on it differently.
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LibraryThing member cameling
I'm absolutely in love with it. Having said that, it's hard to review it without giving surprises away.

[[Ishiguro]] is one of my favorite authors and this book is like his others in that it's not as straight forward a story as you might think, starting out. Etsuko, a Japanese woman remembers a
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summer in Nagasaki when she was pregnant, and had met Sachiko. The story flips between present day and that summer, and although there seems to be a progression in events, Ishiguro keeps his surprise till the very end and leaves you with a few possible conclusions. He certainly had me mulling over a few scenarios when I had finished reading it.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
In Ishiguro's first novel, A Pale View of Hills, an older woman named Etsuko is living alone in England and is visited by her younger daughter, Niki. This visit elicits a number of reflections in Etsuko - from more recent half-formed thoughts about her older daughter Keiko's suicide to older
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memories of when Etsuko was a young wife, pregnant with her first child and living in post-World War II Nagasaki. Many of these memories circle around Etsuko's friendship with a neighbor named Sachiko and her daughter Mariko. Others recall Etsuko's first husband, Jiro, and her father-in-law, Ogata.

As with all of Ishiguro's works that I've read so far, the writing style in this novel is smooth and flows easily, although it is a bit less polished than his later books. Etsuko warns the reader early on that she is an unreliable narrator, but exactly how true that is does not become entirely clear until very near the end of the novel. Ishiguro's mastery in this book is to write something that is evocative and interesting but does not seem to be particularly significant all along and then throw in a monkey wrench by way of a few lines that cause the reader to re-evaluate not only the scene that just occurred but also everything else they took for granted in the story. Indeed, this is a book that will leave the reader mulling over it long after its ending, with various interpretations being put forth by each reader.

In addition to its mysterious and not fully explained content, this book explores many themes. Most notable is of course the reliability of memory, but there are also topics concerning motherhood and the parent/child relationship, generational relationships in general, the contrast - and sometimes conflict - between modernity and tradition, cultural differences and appropriation, and the effects of war on the human psyche. This little book packs a solid amount of food for thought. While some readers may find the lack of a conclusive ending off-putting, I think it's well worth the read and recommend it for when you're in the mood for something thought-provoking.
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LibraryThing member mumfie
Beautifully written but somewhat meandering, as memories are and this reflects the gap between remembering the past and what actually happened. The books ends disappointingly and not with any sense of a finish, Nothing is answered and many questions remains unresolved for the reader to
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ponder.Ultimately it's unsatisfying.
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LibraryThing member AndrewBlackman
Most of this novel is memory: a woman thinking about her daughter's suicide and remembering an earlier summer in post-War Nagasaki. Almost nothing happens in the present day. The whole story takes place in the past.

And the story in the past is full of holes. At first this annoyed me but, the more I
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thought about it, the more I realised how true this is to the story as the woman would have thought about it. Not only are our memories full of holes, but there are also plenty of things we simply don't want to think about, either because they are too painful (the suicide) or simply because they are obvious to us as we know them already. This is why a lot of things a reader would want to know, for example how the woman ended up leaving her first husband and going from Japan to England, are left virtually untouched. We might want to know, but it's not where this woman's mind is going. She's interested in a seemingly unimportant episode, a fairly brief friendship a long time ago with a woman called Sachiko and her small daughter Mariko. Gradually we realise that the woman is thinking about them as a way of drawing parallels with her own life and understanding her relationship with her daughter. Sachiko just wants to escape from Nagasaki, where the Bomb dropped, where so many died and the survivors are living in tough conditions, and she'll do anything to get out, even though she knows she is being a bad mother to Mariko.

The guilt comes across gradually, indirectly, but this is all we can expect from an emotionally repressed character, one who states at the outset: "I have no great wish to dwell on Keiko [her daughter] now, it brings me little comfort."

The writing style is beautiful, restrained, and Ishiguro is particularly good at making things clear without making them obvious, for example a character is saying they are happy, they couldn't be happier, and yet although there are no overt sings of it, we know they are lying. There are also ideas here that will be developed at greater length in his later novels, for example the old man who is rejected by the younger generation, which became the theme of "An Artist of the Floating World".

I've read all but one of Ishiguro's novels now and enjoyed all of them. His writing is a little bit similar in all of them, though - even though they are first-person narrators in wildly different settings, they all sound like the same person somehow. But the stories are compelling enough, and the writing beautiful enough, for this not to matter really.
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LibraryThing member Danielle23
A very strange story bit with beautiful flow to the narrative.
LibraryThing member Ardwick
Felt that the book was always hinting at things I didn't quite understand. Maybe it makes more sense on a second reading. Story of a mother who has her first child in post WW2 Japan, leaves her traditional husband and ends up in the UK. Her relationship with 2 formerly well to do mothers in Japan
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and her relationship with her two daughters seem to contrast with each other.
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LibraryThing member kvanuska
Pale View of Hills uses the narrative effect that captured a much wider audience in The Remains of the Day: the narrator who's walking down memory lane and trying to sort things out, make excuses, find a way to forgive or fool himself once and for all. It doesn't surprise me that A Pale View of
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Hills was a quietly received book -- unfortunately, the Japanese author and setting probably kept many readers away. However, it does not deserve to sink into obscurity. Ishiguro deftly keeps the big setting of post-atomic bomb Nagasaki at bay, like a dreadful cloud hovering on the horizon, and only comes into sharper focus during a visit to the Peace Memorial near the end of the novel. Instead, the novel concentrates on the small domestic moments of families torn asunder by devastation, families who are trying to assemble new lives. A mother and 10-year old daughter move to a shabby cottage on the outskirts of a new apartment complex where they are befriended by a pregnant wife who welcomes a distraction from her husband's and father-in-law's insecurities and her anxieties about the upcoming birth of her first child. Unfortunately, the more she learns about this mother and daughter, the more unsettled she becomes. This story unravels slowly and is narrated from the wife's future, where she is now living in a cottage in soggy England, and struggling to make sense of her twenty-something daughter's recent suicide; her second husband is dead, and her relationship with her younger daughter from that marriage is strained. Not all the story's gaps are filled in -- like what became of her first husband, or how she met her second husband -- but that lends an authenticity to the novel's voice of reminiscence. This book is unsettling and wonderful and has aged quite nicely
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LibraryThing member deebee1
A hauntingly sad, enigmatic novel, it tells of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living in England, who is trying to come to terms with the suicide of her eldest daughter, and in the process, is drawn to memories of her own life back in Japan. She remembers in particular the summer just after she got
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married -- she strikes up a friendship with an enigmatic woman and her young daughter who kept seeing a "lady." This was post-war Nagasaki, and people were still dealing with the loss and destruction from the bombing. Ishiguro deftly and subtly uses metaphor, is ambiguous in parts, and sometimes frustratingly sketchy. But this style evokes very well the brokenness of people's lives then, the hurt, the picking up of the pieces, the unreality, the abruptness of change. There are a lot of things Ishiguro left out -- why the daughter killed herself, the missing part of Etsuko's life between that long-ago summer and her life now, what happened to the mysterious friend and the girl -- details which might have "completed" the story. But we are left to wonder, and perhaps the details do not matter so much as the sentiment and portrayal of loss, disconnection, and memory as identity.
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LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
Ishiguro has written this novel with the spare grace of a Japanese painting- a brush stroke here, another there; you must infer the rest. Past and present shift and blur at times. One is not entirely sure how many women there are in this story, or who is who.

Etsuko, a Japanese born woman living in
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Japan, is dealing with the recent suicide of her elder daughter. With her younger daughter staying with her, she reflects on her own past in Japan, when she was a young wife, pregnant with her first child. Living in Nagasaki, the city so recently devastated by the American bomb, she becomes friends with Sachiko, a woman who-along with a young daughter- lives in a shack that has no electricity or water, spends her days working in a noodle shop and her evenings with an American service man who she expects to take her to live with him when he is shipped back home. This life is very different from Etsuko’s- she is married to a man who expects instant obedience from her and spends her days cleaning and cooking. Sachiko’s daughter, Mariko, is a fey child who does not go to school and spends her time by herself or with a batch of kittens, sometimes speaking of a woman that no one else sees. And there is a child murderer on the loose....

How accurate are Etsuko’s memories? Is there more to her past than she admits in her mind? Does she have some connection with the murderer, or with Sachiko? These things are unresolved. Memory can be like that; many times one doesn’t see the past in a clear cut way. In the 24 hours since I finished reading this book, I’ve wondered over and over about these things and am no closer to the answer, but the wondering is a pleasant thing.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel is beautifully written, although I can’t say I fully understood it. The story is narrated by a Japanese woman, Etsuko, whose older daughter just committed suicide. This tragedy seems to have awoken memories of a summer in Nagasaki (Etsuko lives in Britain now) not
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long after the bombing, when Etsuko was pregnant, presumably with the daughter who has just died. She recalls a woman she briefly knew who lived near her and also had a daughter, a little girl who seems withdrawn and damaged by her experiences during the war. Ishiguro is even more subtle than usual, and a lot of the details of Etsuko’s life are left to the reader to fill in. For instance, it is difficult to tell which of Etsuko’s memories are of this other mother daughter and daughter, and which are of her own daughter. But mostly, this short novel is about how Japan was irrevocably changed after the war and how the various characters fail to deal with that change, just as Etsuko ultimately fails to deal with the death of her daughter. In that aspect, this is a very moving story indeed.
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LibraryThing member marysargent
After reading The Remains of the Day, I went back to this one, his first, and found it well done and intriguing. This was in 1996. Now in 2007 I'm tempted to read it again after reading everything else he's written and not liking his last, what is it? Never Let Me Go?
LibraryThing member MarysGirl
That was fast! I had a couple of long subway rides and finished it in record time. I agree, this is not my favorite Ishiguro book, that honor still resides withNever Let Me Go. It reminded me of An Artist of the Floating World in style, setting, and characters. In the end, the reader doesn't really
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know what went on, the narrator's recollections are unreliable. The best description of the book comes from a blurb on the back: "A macabre and faultlessly worked enigma." -- Sunday Times
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LibraryThing member dczapka
Ishiguro's first novel, like so much of his work that follows it, is a subtle, affecting story, one that reflects on themes of love and family in a mysterious and somewhat unusual way.

The novel tells the story of Etsuko, a Japanese-born transplant living in England (a none-too-subtle reference to
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the author's own life, perhaps?) near her younger daughter Niki. It's told mostly in flashbacks, in which Etsuko reflects on her stable but unexciting marriage to Jiro and the increasingly bizarre relationship she has with a neighbor, Sachiko, and her daughter Mariko -- all of which is tinged by the present knowledge that Etsuko's eldest daughter, Keiko, committed suicide just prior to the start of the tale.

There is little more that can be revealed of the plot without threatening the pacing and development of which Ishiguro already shows great command. Unlike some of his other novels, where the unassuming gathers increasing significance, Sachiko's bizarre behavior, unnerving condescension, and awkward devil-may-care attitude stirs the reader's interest from the start, causing us to care greatly about this surprisingly flat character.

Etsuko herself is an unusual character because her change seems to occur between the story's two main timelines: her friendship with Sachiko while pregnant with Keiko, and a visit from Niki after Keiko's suicide in the present. Thus we see a two-faced woman but never the events that prompt her to change. As the novel carries along, however, that change becomes increasingly clear as details come to light that force us to question a number of assumptions and events in the text. So while the novel invites a quick reading, and is short enough to be read in one sitting, there are much more levels than reveal themselves on the surface.

In the end, the novel turns out to be very different than what we expect from the start -- one particular passage near the end turns almost the entire work on its heel -- and succeeds in building a mystery that fascinates but does not madden the reader. A work that is less obviously tied to Japan than its follow-up, An Artist of the Floating World, A Pale View of Hills is a novel that will get under your skin quickly and completely.
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LibraryThing member seekingflight
This is an enigmatic story that moved slowly but evocatively, with speech and narration showing something of the subtlety and indirectness thought to characterise the Japanese.

It paints a portrait of Etsuko, the narrator, a Japanese woman now living in England, reflecting during the visit of one
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of her daughters on the suicide of her other daughter, and a friendship made with a woman named Sachiko during her time living in Nagasaki.

Some reviewers draw attention to issues such as memory and 'truth', and the 'reliability' or otherwise of Etsuko as a narrator, and these themes are definitely raised by this novel, which allows the reader to fill in many of the gaps in the narrative as s/he chooses.
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LibraryThing member readingwithtea
"Young women these days are all so headstrong"

Continuing the Japanese theme from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, this 200-page novel is set predominantly in Nagasaki. We do flit back and forth between 1980s England and 1950s Japan, but the main focus is definitely post-war Japan.

I struggled
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with this so much - I was surprised that I finished it. Ishiguro being such a revered name, I kept assuming that I would happen across the marvellous piece of writing... and it never happened. There appears to me to be nothing at all special about the writing - the sparse style (which I've already admitted I don't get on with) was devoid of any beauty or flourish, and the characters were difficult and unsympathetic; I couldn't really ever get to grips with any of them.

In this book, nothing is obvious. We have to deduce that Etsuko is a widow; once she goes back to Japan in her memories we have to deduce that she was in the early stages of pregnancy from "At that point in my life, I was still wanting to be left alone"; and a romance for Etsuko before she married Jiro is briefly alluded to but further clarification is not forthcoming. The whole book is written in a very "softly, softly" approach - the same approach that the conversations take - never broaching a topic directly, but instead coming at it from a number of different angles, coming back to it again and again if the conversational partner is avoiding it. I found this style really frustrating, although (while I know little of Japanese culture), I'm assuming that this is considered polite in Japan - not to address a topic directly means that a person can never be forced into speaking of something?

Niki, the English-raised daughter, is in a sense more direct, but she too is quite apathetic, a pale rendition of a person. Etsuko and Niki spend long periods talking at cross-purposes, serving to highlight the generational and cultural chasm between them. Etsuko has a strange relationship with her father-in-law (it seems to pre-date her husband), but this is never clarified; and as for her husband, who seems to be a lazy, ungrateful, rude piece of nothing, with boorish, misogynist friends:

"That's typical of women. They don't understand politics. They think they can choose the country's leaders the same way they choose dresses."

I haven't even got started on Sachiko and Mariko, who both behave truly bizarrely throughout the novel - I've made a list of the ways in which Sachiko acts strangely, both towards her daughter, for whom she seems to care not a bit, and towards Etsuko, apparently her only friend.

I just don't understand. Can someone enlighten me, or is this a dud?
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LibraryThing member LisaMorr
This is the second novel I have read by Ishiguro - the first was Never Let Me Go which is one of the best novels I've ever read. This one, his debut novel, was very different for me. It goes back and forth in time about a woman who lived in Nagasaki not long after the bomb was dropped. The part
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that takes place in the past revolves around her relationship with a poor neighbor woman with a young daughter, at a time when she is pregnant with her first child. The novel reflects a lot on the culture in Japan at the time. When the novel jumps back to the current time, her relationship with her own daughter is explored, and there is another relationship that is touched on - that of her first daughter, who has committed suicide. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure of what really happened to the narrator, her poor neighbor friend, or her friend's daughter. An unsettling novel, just like Never Let Me Go was for me. I will definitely read more Ishiguro.
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LibraryThing member aliciamay
The novel is the story of Etsuko, a Japanese widow now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. Retreating into the past, she finds herself reliving one particular summer in Nagasaki, when the people of Japan were struggling to rebuild their lives after the war. As
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she recalls her strange friendship with Sachiko - a wealthy woman reduced to vagrancy – and Sachiko’s dysfunctional relationship with her young daughter, the story becomes eerie and unreliable.

This slim novel packs a punch. I loved the insight it provided into Japanese culture and the emotional obstacles faced as a result of WWII. Without giving much away, I am still thinking about this book and the different possibilities for what was meant and what happened.
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LibraryThing member Condorena
Unusual, but striking story
LibraryThing member cait815
Fantastic book, with a conclusion that I imagine I'll be trying to wrap my head around for days. I will definitely be rereading this book again soon with a fresh perspective.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
My experience of reading this novel was like living through someone else's dream. What appears to be a story of reminiscence stimulated by terrible tragedy in the present, somehow turns out to be a blend of realities which is difficult to tease apart. Ishiguro has been a favorite of mine for a long
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time, however, this debut novel of his has bumped him up another notch in my view of the literary world. An amazing writer, and a phenomenal book.
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LibraryThing member MarieAlt
I just couldn't connect to this novel, or any of the characters. Even the narrator managed to be completely distant.

For all the conversations, so little was said. They didn't even seem to talk around the issues, so much as avoid them entirely. However, near the end, I began to sort of understand a
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few of the characters' situations. And yet--- I just couldn't connect with any of them.

I guess I just wanted more. More history, more backstory, more sense. Maybe less creepiness from Sachiko. While eventually I understood what *had* happened, nothing meant anything because it wasn't connected.

However, it was beautifully written, so carefully drawn. Perhaps I just didn't give it enough focus. And I did read it quickly. Worth reading, especially to talk about. It would be a fun novel to read in a group and would benefit from discussion, I think.
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Ondaatje Prize (Winner — 1982)



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