With his trademark simple elegance and heartbreaking realism, Kazuo Ishiguro once again forces us - however gently - to confront a few small pesky queWith his trademark simple elegance and heartbreaking realism, Kazuo Ishiguro once again forces us - however gently - to confront a few small pesky questions that keep him up at night. Like, for instance, what exactly is it that makes us human, what are our responsibilities as a species, and does the soul exist? You know, little things like that.
He takes the most urgent and overwhelming philosophical questions ever to face human culture and somehow tackles them effortlessly in a casually worded book of under three hundred pages told entirely from the point of view of a young woman at a 1990's English boarding school. I will not go on and tell you more about the setting, but be assured this is no ordinary woman and this is no ordinary boarding school. But it could be...and that's kind of the point. Despite what you may have heard about the nature of this book, the characters could be any of us, all of us, in fact, and their existential questions are our existential questions, as well. We all have to face the issues these young people face. What constitutes a desirable quality of life and how can we cope with the nature of mortality? What are our obligations to the other beings in our sphere of existence? What does it all mean and why should it matter?
Ishiguro never shirks from the difficult questions. He forces us to ponder what being human means: Is it compassion, empathy, the desire to care for someone? Is it being able to create, think in the abstract, find beauty in words or pictures? Is it lust, jealousy, the ability to omit the truth at will? Is it the desire to pursue happiness or the awareness of grief? In stunning parallels with modern culture, (because even though this is set in the very recent past, it is an alternate reality, a slightly different version of those times), Ishiguro spells out for us the way human society has marginalized certain groups in the past and may do so again, how our scientific and technological advances often occur without equal consideration of the ethical concerns, and how humans, as advanced as we may be, still do not have definitive answers to the biggest questions, like who we are, why we are here, and what happens when we no longer exist.
These topics, as seen through the eyes of our young heroine, become even more poignant when we encounter Ishiguro's lovely, simplistic prose, within which each line of dialogue is fraught with underlying concerns and each thought becomes layered with multiple meanings. Ishiguro is, after all, the master of the unspoken thought. If you are someone who has ever regretted something in your life, yearned to go back and say the things you left unsaid, dreamed of righting a wrong or taking an old mistake and finding a better outcome for it, Ishiguro knows your inner life; he has thought your thoughts, seen into your soul, and he will wrap his text around your heart and squeeze the very life out of you. The young people in this book are on a linear road much like the one we travel ourselves, and maybe no amount of pondering or speaking up or active pursuit could ever really change the inevitable outcome, but Ishiguro, as he so often does, always leaves us to agonize over that one small "what if" that could have made all the difference. ...more