When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro : BOOK REVIEW

“All I know is that I’ve wasted all these years looking for something, a sort of trophy I’d get only if I really, really did enough to deserve it. But I don’t want it anymore, I want something else now, something warm and sheltering, something I can turn to, regardless of what I do, regardless of who I become. Something that will just be there, always, like tomorrow’s sky. That’s what I want now, and I think it’s what you should want too. But it will be too late soon. We’ll become too set to change. If we don’t take our chance now, another may never come for either of us.”

Kazuo Ishiguro

It is precisely after having read this quote that I waited for the whole of 2018 to get my hands on this novel. After months of stalking the book on amazon and other websites, I managed to procure it and finally read it. In all honestly, the wait has not gone in vain, my patience bore the fruits I expected from Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans.

Ishiguro, through his aforesaid novel brings into focus the period of Second World War with the help of a famous English detective Christopher Banks who is the narrator of the story. The period that Ishiguro deals has been dealt by him in his other novels like An Artist of the Floating, the story of Masuji Ono who put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into the Second World War. However, in When We Were Orphans he uses an Englishman to narrate the war from the perspective of the West. Banks is a celebrated detective in the London society; however, one case that he is intent upon solving and that has remained unsolved since his life in London began was the disappearance of his parents when he was a child living in Shanghai.

Before I delve into what I felt about the book, I would like to write something about the voice of the narrator in Ishiguro’s novels. I have read four books by Ishiguro now, and in three out of the four books male narrators have been used. All the three male narrators have been from different social setting but they have been present against the background of the Great Wars, be it the butler from The Remains of the Day, or the artist from An Artist of the Floating World, or the detective from When We Were Orphans; the three voices have had the same detached tone and listening to their stories have always made me judge them as highly complex and ambiguous. I feel that’s exactly what Ishiguro wished to achieve while he drew up the characters, and I must say he achieved it pretty well because I could sympathise with these narrators and understand their sufferings but after a point they become difficult to understand and it becomes somewhat impossible to judge them on moral grounds. The narrator in When We Were Orphans was a man of “high London society”; he has this air of arrogance and feeling of superiority around him, as we get to see how he dealt with Sarah Hemmings’ rejection when he approached her for the first time or the time he irritatingly refused to be considered as a ‘miserable loner’ in his school days by one of his classmates. Throughout the narration one gets to have a sense of how highly the narrator thought of himself and it was in a sense a representation of the English spirit at that time. The novel is a satire on the English colonial expansion; it is a story that unmasked the reality of the so-called civilised West, the narrator, like his mother, were voices in the story to denounce the imperialist nature of England that was marring the East. By referring closely to the Opium trade in China, the author shows how the English were perpetrating it for their colonialist goals and the price the East had to pay for the high society of the West, particularly the Whites. The novel is a satire on war itself, the effects a war can have by tearing families apart, and the death. Ishiguro puts his narrator right into the war field to experience war from his own eyes by making him look at people writhe in pain, scream and howl for life and taste war in every way possible. The novel is a tale of memory, intrigue and the need to return, the need to belong which war and the modern society has taken away from man.

Vale of Unforgotten Memories

“For I have known them all already, known them all-                                                     Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                                                                 I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-T.S. Eliot

Some ten or twenty years hence, when we would look back at all the events that have shaped us into who we would be, we’d smile to look at all those times we had laughed at the tiny jokes, enjoyed a drink with a friend or two, cried at the times we thought we had lost everything; and realise how much we’ve changed. And it is this realisation that shall keep us alive even when our weakening symmetry might start giving up.

Arthur Golden has written one of the most beautiful memoirs I have come across until now. No, it isn’t a recollection of his life events. Surprisingly, it is a memoir of a woman, to be precise, a geisha. Memoirs of a Geisha is a work of fiction that brings into light the life of one of the geishas of Kyoto, her journey from a small fishing village called Yoroido to being one of the best geishas of Japan. Sayuri, a fisherman’s six-year old daughter comes across a man named Tanaka and that meeting changes her life forever. The day she met Tanaka was the “best and the worst” day of her life.

Was her name really Sayuri?

 What was that about the meeting that changed her life?

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 Golden’s literary composition is beyond praise, he has written this book in first person narrative. Besides, it took him six years to finish this masterpiece as he had written it from three different perspectives before finally coming up with Sayuri’s point of view. The memoir will leave you amazed. There was so much to acquire from this book, the Japanese culture, the lifestyle of geishas, their best times, their worst times. Especially, the get-up of these ladies, believe me you’d urge to be dressed as a geisha and visit Kyoto at least once in your life after reading the spectacular images Golden paints. Honestly, this is one of my favourite books and I would highly recommend you to go and read it as soon as possible. Admittedly, I was flipping through the pages without any hesitation and I could not bring myself to believe that I had finished reading a five-hundred page book within three days.

“We rise; shapes cluster around us in welcome, dissolving and forming again and dissolving again like fireflies in a summer evening.”

-Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Love; for the Explosion to Begin

‘Home is where we have to gather grace.’ – Nissim Ezekiel

Human Beings start their first day of life with their family, their home. Over the years, our home is what shapes us for the years to come. It is the place where you have a place and will always have a place ever and forever. However, we often forget that our home is not us when we are lost in it; each one has their own role to play, each one of us is a separate branch sprouting from the expansive tree. We forget the fact that we define home, the home doesn’t define us.

Focusing on the aforementioned thought, Nicola Yoon penned down the story of Natasha and Daniel in her latest, award-winning novel The Sun is Also a Star. Natasha’s father’s wish to lead a beautiful life in America has toppled down when they get the notice of their deportation to Jamaica in the next twenty four hours. Daniel’s parents’ wishes to see their son become a doctor are worrying them as they see Daniel being reluctant to pursue the Dream. Daniel and Natasha, both under their family’s pressure, seem to have forgotten that their Home is depleting as the family push them ahead and ahead until they are lost.

Are they going to survive the calamity?

What is going to happen when these two stars collide?

Would the universe witness the saddest or the happiest stories of two innocent, confused teenagers?

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I am glad to have not been disappointed by Nicola Yoon after her debut novel. My expectations were pretty low with this story but the satisfaction surpassed the expectations as the story came to a sensible close. I love the premise of Nicola Yoon’s novels, she drops her characters in one of the most complicated situations possible and it pushes me right at the edge of my seat to know what is going to happen with these characters. Besides the minute cheesiness, this story was good. I liked the fact that she brought forth the perspective of various characters into view and how they are important for the movement of the story of these two protagonists. The ending was a little exaggerated, yes, it was sensible and okay but I somehow thought it was an unnecessary add-on to the already well written story. Last but not the least, the cover of this novel is beyond pretty. I can’t but fall in love with the cover over and over again.

‘Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.’

-John Masefield.

 

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THE COVER OF THE BOOK IS everything, everything.

Everything Beyond Nothing

Love, a theme or a feeling which has given birth to wonders of literature and shall remain the core of literature for ages and beyond. It amazes readers to find how interestingly authors deal with the indispensable theme by merging it with lesser known situations. One of the most common situations is when one of the protagonists is sick and their future seems bleak. Books like The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You are a few to suggest with a certain storyline.

Nicola Yoon, an author who stepped into the world of writing with Everything, Everything warmed the hearts of cheesy, mushy, love story fanatics through her debut novel. ‘Everything, Everything’ follows the story of a girl, Madeline Whittier aka Maddy who is suffering from a disease which suggests her being allergic to the world outside her home. She keeps to her home with her caring mother and her loving nurse. She lives her life through her books and the window overlooking her air-filtered bubble of a room. Incidentally, a new family turns up in the house opposite hers and then she discovers the cutest guy she has seen in her life, Olly.

“It made me think that everything was about to arrive- the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.”

-Jack Kerouac

I was really looking forward to the ending; it kept me at the edge of my seat. I loved the way this book was written. Admittedly, I was enjoying the first two hundred and fifty pages. Unfortunately, I was pretty dissatisfied with the climax and the unprecedented turn of events. Nonetheless, I really liked the illustrations, snippets of conversations attached to the story; they made the reading enjoyable and fun.

READ IT BEFORE THE FILM HITS THE CINEMAS!!!!!!

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Still from the Film 

Inglorious Bastards

Nowadays, I am on the hunt for books which have been awarded for its contents and story line. On my way, I came across a book by an Irish author who had won the Baileys Women Prize for Fiction in 2016 and Desmond Elliott Prize in 2016 for her novel depicting the underworld of Cork, Ireland.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney published in 2015, begins with the story of an old woman murdering a lad who had barged into her house. The story then focuses on her son Jimmy, the most feared gangster in Cork, who lures his buddy Tony, stuck up with five kids and his teenage kid, Ryan, who, Tony believes is on his way to wreck his life, to clear up the mess his mother had created. Things move according to the plan until the lad’s girlfriend, Georgie, embarks on a search for him.

“… for how good intentions so easily dishonoured ever have a chance of saving her?”     -Lisa McInerney

Is Georgie going to find out the murderer?

What are the truths that shall unfold amidst the hullabaloo?

Will justice prevail?

I was a little confused by the movement of the story in the beginning but the moment I identified the different characters and their relations to each other it all got sorted. I loved the novel, the storyline, the complexity of each character and the amount of themes thread together in the making of the story. It was worth it. No wonder it won two laurels. I would highly recommend this book to people who are in the mood to pick up some moving yet disturbing novel in the adult fiction.

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Between the Age of Innocence and Experience

Having promised myself to try out diverse genres in book and books which have caught the interest of various readers, I decided to pick up Benjamin Alire Saenz’s The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Recently, Saenz had won the Pen Faulkner Award, Stonewall Book Award, Pura Belpre Award, Lambda Literary Award and many more for his book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (which I haven’t read yet).

So, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life begins with the story of a seventeen-year old Salvador, who is bullied in his school by one or two pricks because his father is gay. Being an adopted child, he often wonders who his biological father might be and if he has picked up the skill to punch bullies by his biological parent because his real father is the kindest and understanding human being one could come across in their lives. Trapped in the inexplicability of his various life decisions, his future and the failing health of his dearest grandmother, he starts unhooking various straps of his limited boundaries and tries to understand life and death as two essential entities of life and how beautiful it is to love the ones who love you and relish in the imperfections of life.

How is Salvador going to deal with the idiosyncrasies of his mates?

What is he going to learn from people around him?

Will he be able to simply the inexplicable logic of his life?

“And the angel told Tom, if he’d be good boy,                                                                            He’d have God for his father, and never want joy.”                                                                                                                                                               -William Blake.

I listened to it as an audiobook and it was 11 hours and 30 minutes long which is WAY too long for a contemporary. To begin with, I really liked the way the novel began; perfect beginning to a story with well-thought out characters but… but then the novel happened.
Salvador’s father, a very inspiring father indeed but how can a human being exist without even ONE fault. He seemed completely faultless to me, totally, and I found that absurd.
Everything is happy-happy and full of love among the three friends (not anything against having such a healthy relationship but…), how can three teenagers not have a little, even a little fight among themselves!?
This book actually read more like a moral education book. God, that pissed me so much. I mean, yes, I agree that every book inculcates some kind of moral values to the reader but this book was jaded (YES, JADED) with stuff being good and all. For instance things like,  Don’t use the word “bitch” “fuck”, don’t drink; I mean, why?
It was pretty dramatic in some parts of which I cannot talk about as it’d be a spoiler.
Lastly, the phrase “No, boy, no.” pissed me off and I felt like pulling out the vocal chords of the narrator (I am so sorry for conjuring such violent imaginations but the incessant use of that phrase totally ticked me off.)
Okay, so the reason why I gave this novel a 3 star even after ranting so much about it was-:
1- Salvador’s Father (haven’t read anything about a father who’s gay so I was quite interested in knowing him as a person)
2- No romance or anything cliché between a boy and a girl who are not related through blood ties.
3- Focuses on Friendship and Family which is generally ignored by contemporary writers.

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New Year and New Beginnings

My resolution for 2017 is to try and step out of my comfort zones and lay my hands on genres which do not attract me every so often. One such genre is Science Fiction. The name itself sends impulses to retract my steps even though I don’t want to.

With a challenge ahead of me, I placed an order for Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff after binge watching booktube videos. I will keep the review pretty short because the lesser you know the better it is to actually read it. Basically, the story is set in 2575 when a planet is attacked by a villainous megacorporation and it follows the journey of Ezra Mason and Kady Grant.

Admittedly, I loved the manner in which the book was penned down. The use of graphics, reports, IM conversations, emails was unique and impressive.I would highly suggest all you science fanatics and computer aficionados to pick this up if your looking for dystopian thriller. Unfortunately, I realised this genre is simply not meant for me and I was disappointed in this book.

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A small look at what’s inside. Photo Courtesy- Google Images.

 

 

Trampled

 

“His soul stretched tight across the skies

That fade behind a city block,

Or trampled by insistent feet”

-T.S. Eliot

Dystopia is one of my favourite genres. I just love how the author paints a world where everything is wrong and in a mess and there is one character or a couple of characters fighting against it and for themselves. The better it sounds the difficult it is to actually deal with. Acting on the suggestion of my favourite teacher, I picked up Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, a dystopian novel which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 and Booker Prize in 1999.

Set in the South African city of Cape Town, the book follows the story an English Professor, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, who has an impulsive affair with one of his students. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. He is willing to admit his guilt but he refuses to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding. However, his escape to the countryside is not welcomed with warmth and mirth. He and his daughter become victims of a savage attack which brings into relief all the fault lines in their relationship.

The setting of this book is fabulous and apt, set in the regions of Africa dominated by anarchy, racist attitudes, where seeing someone die in front of your eyes is not really a big deal resonates in each and every character of the book. For literature lovers, you will enjoy this book because the use of some literary allusions gives the story its final shape. Moving into the language and writing, I don’t think any other author could have managed to present the book the way Coetzee has. With his excellent use of simple words, subtle images, presentation of character born in a violent environment, this book actually stands out from other dystopian fictions I have read. Although, I wouldn’t say this is my favourite dystopian novel. To fully grasp the stuff this book deals with, I believe, it requires a certain age and maturity which I haven’t achieved until now. Anyway, I would surely pick this book up after three-four years and read it.