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.

Milkman by Anna Burns : BOOK REVIEW

‘Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.’

Seamus Heaney

Northern Ireland has been a state fraught with conflict and violence since time immemorial. The period of The Troubles (late-1960s to 1998) has been one of the most significant periods of unrest in Northern Ireland which had its origin in the Catholic-Protestant fiasco. The former vouched for the rule of the Catholics giving Northern Ireland independence from the British rule whereas the latter believed in the goodwill of the monarchy of the ‘over the water’ in Northern Ireland. The civil war that struck the landmass had rippling effects across Europe and the land ‘over the water’ too. The magnitude and the catastrophic impact of the unrest were widely captured by Irish poets and writers. To name, Seamus Heaney in his collections North (1975) and Field Work (1979) has captured the apocalypse that had struck Northern Ireland and the loss of innocent lives due to the political turmoil engulfing the nation.

The war may have subsided but its impact still resonates in the families residing in Northern Ireland. Born and bred in Northern Ireland, and The Man Booker Prize Winner of 2018 for her book Milkman, Anna Burns excavates the political unrest and turmoil during The Troubles in an unnamed city of Northern Ireland through her 18-year old narrator in the aforementioned, award-winning novel. The novel captures the feud and its consequences in the lives of the people in the most brutal and realistic manner. The book begins with the narrator making her circumstances known to the reader- about her may-be boyfriend, her rendezvous with the milkman and her resolution to keep mum about it, however, things don’t turn out the way she intended them to and gossips of her strange meeting spill out in the war-torn society and the narration gradually starts to uncover the aspects of the social situation persisting around her.

Anna Burns’ resolution to delineate the atrocities of the civil war is praiseworthy. In my opinion, the author has covered a multitude of themes and aspects of social life in the historical fiction unmasking what a war could do to a society and its individuals in general, and a religiously orthodox society in particular. What stood out most in the story was the fiercely involved yet a peculiarly detached voice of the narrator, an 18-year old girl viewing war and society around her; I could imagine Saoirse Ronan excellently pulling off the role of the narrator if a film were ever to be made on this book. However, I would admit that in the first 150-180 pages the willingness to continue with the book would not develop and one would want to put it aside because of the world-building that goes into the narration. The narrator grasps the attention of the readers by narrating an incident taking place that moves the plot and then the narrator goes into recollection or traces the historicity of the incident and that did get slightly dry but once one crosses 150-180 pages, one gets attuned to the world the narrator has chalked out and the story starts to fall into place. The author has brilliantly mapped a dogmatic, war-torn, orthodox society and yet a society of the West by emphasising on the aspects of child marriage, teenage pregnancies leading to irresponsible parents and juvenile delinquency, sexual violence against both men and women, toxic masculinity, the mental impacts of stalking and gossips in society, exploration of the catholic faith, social exclusion, insecurity of old age most importantly, the feminine identity. Burns’ modicum to bring out the identity of the woman and a girl in society through her narrator is one of the highlights of the novel. The book deals with the status of a girl in society, the threats they are continuously posited owing to their feminine identity on a day-to-day basis, and the insecurity with losing the charm and being less attractive for the man; the author has shed light on it by the use of various characters in the girl’s narration. My favourite aspect of this book would be the love stories in the novel; some broke my heart into pieces and some warmed my heart. Alongside, the characters, Milkman and the real milkman, the contrast both the characters offered were crucial to the story and in a way both the characters were symbolic, one symbolised the turmoil killing Northern Ireland and the other represented the people of Northern Ireland and the humanity that lay underneath the rebellious, dystopic façade.

‘I who have stood dumb

when your betraying sisters,

cauled in tar,

wept by the railings,’

Seamus Heaney

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Spectre Museum

After having read a humongous amount of books from a wide variety of genres, I have finally figured out the genre that pleases me the most. *DRUM ROLLS* No other genre of literature quenches my thirst for reading as much as Historical Fiction.

Observing the love being showered on the Pulitzer Prize winner of 2015, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I decided to give this fiction a try. Doerr brings into life the siege, bombardments and the terror of World War II through the memoirs of his two young protagonists, Werner and Marie-Laurie. He sketches the voyage of Werner from his little home in a French countryside to tracking radio waves for Hitler’s army and Marie-Laurie’s sightless journey from Paris to Saint-Malo with the Sea of Flames.

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Needless to say, I adored the work with all my heart and I am happy to have read this masterpiece. I loved the descriptions the author paints to delineate the cruelty experienced by people at the outset of the war. Very few authors have talked about the pain France had to undergo during the war, at least I haven’t read anything related to France being victimized during the World Wars. My heart went out to all the characters in the book, be it the German or French, victims or the terrorists, because everyone had the other side to their story. Each character lost something crucial in their lives because pain never felt the need to resort to only one. However, I wouldn’t say this is my favourite historical fiction set in World War II, there are other books I liked better.  Anyway, it was a good read and I rated this book 4.75/5 on goodreads.

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.