Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What the hell is up with A Pale View of Hills

OK, I finished A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro last night, and am completely disturbed. I need to talk about it. If you haven't read this book and plan to in the future, click away, click away. This post will be full of spoilers. If you have read the book, please chip in.

I started to provide a plot summary, but stopped because I'm really directing this at people who have read the novel. You can find one here. What I want to talk about are the two main interpretations of the novel. There are more than two ways to read A Pale View of Hills, but these are the two basic branches, I think, with variations.

Interpretation 1: Etsuko is Sachiko; Keiko is Mariko. Etsuko is unwilling to accept her past behavior (Sachiko is a terrible mother and frequently leaves her daughter alone for hours at a time, allowing her to wander around by herself even though there has been a spate of child murders in the area; she also hasn't enrolled Mariko in school, and plans to take the child against her will to America with her boyfriend, whom Mariko hates), so she invents a "friend" to project her disapproval onto. This explains the parallels in Etsuko's and Sachiko's lives: Both leave Japan with a daughter for an English-speaking country (though in fact it's unclear in the novel whether Etsuko ever makes it to America). Mariko is a lonely, unhappy child who doesn't want to leave Japan; Keiko is described similarly and never adjusts to life in England, hence her withdrawal and eventual suicide. As far as I can tell, this is the more common interpretation of the novel.

Interpretation 2: Etsuko is the child murderer. She murders Mariko, among other children, but has blocked it out. Her method is hanging, which calls into question whether Keiko in fact committed suicide or was murdered.

I favor the second interpretation, for these reasons: Etsuko repeatedly expresses concern for Mariko's whereabouts and well-being. The child is wont to run off, and Etsuko goes out looking for her on several occassions, though Sachiko always says there is nothing to worry about. On one occasion, she has gotten a rope caught around her ankle when she finds Mariko, and Mariko appears afraid of her. Later, in the crucial scene where Etsuko finds her by the river and speaks to her as though she were Sachiko (saying, "If you don't like it in America, we can come back" -- leading many readers to believe that Etsuko is Sachiko), she is again suddenly holding a rope. The child asks why she is holding it, and she says again that it just got caught around her ankle, and that she's not going to hurt the child. In the memory, Mariko runs away, but in Interpretation 2, Etsuko in fact kills the child. This explains her premonition earlier that day, and her recurring dreams, in England, of a little girl "swinging" (not on a swing, but by a rope). Etsuko has merely confused Mariko with her own daughter Keiko, since she would later have a similar conversation, convincing her to move to England. The stuff about the child murders and the rope doesn't make sense if Mariko is Keiko, because Keiko doesn't die until much later.

A third interpretation, I suppose, is that Etsuko is both the child murderer and Sachiko, and that she killed her first daughter and had another while still in Japan. Or, in a fourth version, she is both the child murderer and Sachiko, but doesn't succeed in killing Mariko/Keiko, although she has killed other children in the past. Or, fifth, she is not the murderer at large, but she does have a "killer inside" and considers killing Mariko/Keiko, but does not succeed, in which case the vision of Mariko hanging is more of a wish than a memory, though in fact she does hang herself many years later.

Also entirely possible: The story is intentionally ambiguous, all interpretations being valid.

For those who have read it, what do you think?


  1. From Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro, Edited by Brian W. Shaffer & Cynthia F. Wong:

    "In [A Pale View of Hills], I was trying something rather odd with the narrative. The main strategy was to leave a big gap. It's about a Japanese woman, Etsuko, who is exiled in Britain in middle age, and there's a certain area of her life that's very painful to her. It has something to do with her coming over to the West and the effect it has on her daughter, who subsequently commits suicide. She talks all around it, but she leaves that as a gap. Instead, she tells another story altogether, going back years and talking about somebody she once knew. So the whole narrative strategy of the book was about how someone ends up talking about things they cannot face directly through other people's stories. I was trying to explore that type of language, how people use the language of self-deception and self-protection."

  2. Ahhh, so that fits more, I think, with the second interpretation: that Sachiko and Mariko are real, separate people, but that she is using/manipulating their story in some way, warping it through her memory and her retelling.

    Also, 'exiled' implies she's a freaking murderer!

    Thanks, Travis!

  3. A pleasure.

    Here's more from the interview:

    Q: There are certain things, a bit like in Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, that are unresolved. For instance, in the pivotal scene on the bridge when Etsuko is talking to her friend Sachiko's daughter Mariko, she switches without warning to addressing the child as if she herself were actually the child's mother. At the most extreme, that leads the reader to ponder whether the two women were not one and the same person.

    A. What I intended was this: because it's really Etsuko talking about herself, and possibly that somebody else, Sachiko, existed or did not exist, the meanings that Etsuko imputes to the life of Sachicko are obviously the meanings that are relevant to her (Etsuko's) own life. Whatever the facts were about what happened to Sachiko and her daughter, they are of interest to Etsuko now because she can use them to talk about herself. So you have this highly Etsuko-ed version of this other person's story; and at the most intense point, I ewanted to suggest that Etsuko had dropped this cover. It just slips out; she's now talking about herself. She's no longer bothering to put it into the third person.

  4. Yes, yes! Exactly -- in the intensity of the moment, the framing is breaking down.

  5. I'm really going to have to read this book now.

  6. I'm sorry you already know so much, then. When you're reading it, you have absolutely no sense that Etsuko has this evil inside, until the end.

  7. It will be like watching The Sixth Sense the second time. I'll have fun looking for the clues.

  8. I read a little further in that interview (in Google Books) and found it telling that he said he thought the book was flawed because it was his first, and that there were messy elements that didn't fit because he didn't think everything through. So, perhaps he didn't intend for Etsuko to look like the child murderer? But she certainly does.

  9. I read that book so many years ago, I forget the details, but I definitely remember choosing Door #1...even though I can't defend my choice today.

  10. Like Christen, I read the book a while back. I was definitely on the side of Interpretation 1, as well. Now I feel compelled to read it again, especially with these possibilities in mind...

  11. Christen and Kelly (hi!!), how do you explain the business with the rope(s) and all the implications that Mariko ends up dead?

  12. I actually picked this book up again and reread it this week (I couldn't believe how much I'd forgotten!), and I have to say I enjoyed the book a great deal more the second time around.

    I think I still lean toward interpretation 1 (otherwise, the first person dialogue with Mariko by the river makes no sense). But I think it's not impossible that interpretation 1 can mingle with 2, and that Etsuko is, in fact, the child murderer/the woman on the other side of the river (that river may not be literal, but the river of Etsuko's consciousness). The drowning of the kittens is just too close a parallel for the woman drowning the baby (and then supposedly killing herself. Maybe she simply dissociated that side of her personality).

  13. Well, it makes sense if you take Ishiguro at his word that he wanted the Etsuko character to use the Sachiko story to tell her own. (He writes "What I intended was this: because it's really Etsuko talking about herself, and possibly that somebody else, Sachiko, existed or did not exist, the meanings that Etsuko imputes to the life of Sachicko are obviously the meanings that are relevant to her (Etsuko's) own life. Whatever the facts were about what happened to Sachiko and her daughter, they are of interest to Etsuko now because she can use them to talk about herself.") So the scene where she refers to Mariko as though she's her daughter makes sense if you look at it as the framing breaking down, that this is Etsuko's story, not Sachiko's. But I'm starting to think it is intentionally ambiguous slash open to interpretation.

    1. I think they are the same person especially because she remembers the day at the cable cars. I thought that right from the mention of the lady across the river. I would like to see more discussion of the husband and father in-law.

  14. Hi Elisa,

    I just finished the book today and in searching for analysis of it, stumbled into this very nice discussion. I was leaning towards Interpretation #2; I can certainly see how there is enough in there to suggest Etsuko is an actual murderer (and perhaps that's what Ishiguro means when he talks about holes - you may have already said this). To me, the suggestions that Etsuko is inadvertently dragging the rope that will hang Keiko, or Mariko, is an unconscious symbol of the blame she places on herself for her daughter's death. Or maybe to put it a bit more forcefully, her guilt is so strong that her memories are infiltrated with suggestions that she actually could be a murderer (though I don't think she is). Having written that, I think you are much better at parsing these interpretations than I am!

    - Ray

    1. Hi Elisa and Ray,

      Am reading this discussion with interest as my book club were discussing these very points this evening. Ray, for me, you have hit the nail on the head -To me, the suggestions that Etsuko is inadvertently dragging the rope that will hang Keiko, or Mariko, is an unconscious symbol of the blame she places on herself for her daughter's death.'

      I see the rope as a symbol of Etsuko's guilt. I actually liked the character and could not see her a child murderer! But maybe I am just a coward


    2. Rashamon anyone? (spelling)

  15. Hi Ray! I like that idea: "her guilt is so strong that her memories are infiltrated with suggestions that she actually could be a murderer" ... the more I think about it, the more I think Ishiguro wasn't sure himself. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. I just finished the book today. I guess I was going with something like Interpretation 1, like with some kind of Mulholland Drive body-switching thing. Really though the ending just left me confused. I definitely took note of the rope coming back in the climax scene, but I was just like, huh? And since I have such a terrible memory for what I read, even something I read only a week ago (I read this whole book in exactly 7 days), I'm not able to go back in my mind and put together the various plot strands to come up with any kind of interpretation. I wish I was able to do that, like you are.

    1. I need to read it again someday and see what I think, knowing what I know now, etc. Though I think the ambiguities are essentially unresolvable.

  17. Yeah. I was really liking the book a lot up to the end. I thought it was very suspenseful. But the thing about suspense is you need a satisfying payoff (I do anyway). It almost gets there, but falls just short.

    1. I agree, I came out of this book just minutes ago feeling unsatisfied by the lack of a clear conclusion (or at least enough evidence to choose or make one for myself). I actually wondered if there was a sequel (I didn't know anything about this book previously as it was a gift).

      Personally, unless she has dramatically changed the story in her mind, which I think would be unlikely, I think Sachiko was a different person to Etsuko. I get the impression that Mariko never really had a father while Keiko was noted as having loved hers.

      The more I think about the ages of the children, though, the more I think it's possible that Etsuko left her first husband and remained in Japan for some time before going to England. It would also make sense if Niki's father was 'Frank', as they've obviously split up and the man was constantly in and out of Sachiko's life.

      I thought maybe that the change of view in the scene on the bridge might have indicated that Etsuko was already thinking of leaving. However, she obviously did not do so as Keiko knew her father for several years.

      Overall, this book has just left me thoroughly confused.

    2. I had a slightly different interpretation.... I was thinking that maybe Etsuko kidnapped/adopted/rescued Mariko from Sachiko, and renamed her Keiko. That could explain why she is talking to Mariko at the end about "we can always come back". Also, the age difference between Mariko and Etsuko's pregnancy seems to match Keiko and Nikki.

      I think it's clear that Mariko and Keiko have a lot in common... both are very emotionally distant, independent, loners, traumatized by life and unable to deal with others very well. I just didn't see that Etsuko and Sachiko had enough in common that they could be the same person. I feel that if Etsuko is really the same person as Sachiko, looking back at how she used to be a bad mother to Mariko, we would have a hint of some major event that triggered a change and made her a better mother, and I didn't catch anything like that.

      Etsuko was always the one going out looking for Mariko-- she was always the one worried about her, always the one out trying to find her. She establishes that she is not a natural mother (continued concerns about her own ability to be a good mother in the future once her baby arrives), but she is clearly better than Sachiko. Ishiguro established quite well that Sachiko had a pattern of running off and doing her own thing, not caring what Mariko does. I imagined that maybe the night that Sachiko was packing up to move to the US and Etsuko was out chasing the traumatized Mariko, perhaps Sachiko just simply left before they got back to the cottage. Or maybe she left in the morning and left Mariko behind. Or maybe Etsuko was finally that mysterious woman who convinced Mariko "come over to my house", and when Sachiko went to leave in the morning, Mariko was not at the cottage, and so Sachiko simply left without her. Somehow, I felt that Etsuko became Mariko's mother.

      Also, on that last night when she is walking with her lantern, she has to continually stop to let trapped creatures out of the lantern. Before that, she had watched the kittens drown but had not helped them. I think she maybe saw that Sachiko was eventually going to drown Mariko (literally or figuratively), so Etsuko finally decided to take action so that she could free Mariko.

      I definitely think there is something odd about all the girls hanging, and the rope repeatedly caught on Etsuko's sandal. At one point Etsuko says "Memory, I realize, can be an unreliable thing; often it is heavily colored by the circumstances in which one remembers, and no doubt this applies to certain of the recollections I have gathered here." I thought that maybe Etsuko feels very guilty for her role in having stolen Mariko/Keiko from her mother, especially since Keiko ended up hanging herself, so all of her memories of the past are clouded by this image of the rope that Keiko used to hang herself. Etsuko now can't see beyond how things ended. (She did comment on having to come to peace with the image of her daughter hanging there for many days, and clearly it is a difficult image for her.) I think Etsuko has shut her emotions off from the world (and the contrast is that with Ogata-san, she was much warmer), but I don't think it's to the extent that she is covering up a past as a murderer. She just can't get past the fact that she tried to rescue Mariko/Keiko, and in the end the girl hanged herself.

      I was really hoping we would learn what happened between Etsuko and Jiro... I thought that was going to clear things up for me.

      I would be very interested to hear what others think about this interpretation!

    3. Thanks for your comment, Karen! It's a really interesting theory and unreliable memory certainly plays a role in this book -- we also don't know how much of the story is willfully inaccurate (meaning, Etsuko is intentionally not a reliable narrator). At this point, I am strongly considering reading the book again, because I've forgotten a lot of the small details by now, and I so enjoyed the suspense and mystery. I wonder if it will come together the second time around.

    4. Karen's interpretation also neatly explains why Etsuko addresses Mariko as if she were her mother. And the presence of the rope is a symbol of the unintentional future risk of death (by self-inflicted hanging) implicit in becoming Etsuko's daughter. Full marks, Karen!

    5. I agree with Karen. It was so weird reading the book, being completely caught up in the story of Sachiko and Mariko, to suddenly have the book end, having left Etsuko on the bridge after that traumatic incident with the kittens. I couldn't believe it was the end. And I had noticed how Etsuko suddenly switched to the first person plural about Mariko's going to America. "If you don't like it, we can leave." What is going on? I went back and reread it a couple of times and decided there must be a clue to the resolution. I finally came to the same conclusion as Karen. My idea is that Sachiko and her daughter go to Kobe to wait for Frank, who obviously will never send the money. Sachiko has a breakdown, or finds another man. At any rate, she can't look after her daughter any more, so she contacts Etsuko and asks her to take Mariko. Etsuko adopts Mariko and renames her Keiko. Her birth daughter is Nikki, about 7 years younger. They move to England. Mariko/Keiko is so traumatised by her terrible childhood she eventually hangs herself.
      Another clue was the postcard she gives Nikki, and says "Keiko was happy that day. We rode on the cable-cars" referring back to the day that Mariko won the major prize at the fair.
      I wonder if Ishiguro knows the answer to the puzzle he has created, or if he prefers it to remain a mystery.
      It's fantastic to find other people equally baffled and fascinated by the story, and its enigmatic, abrupt ending. I kept turning to the last page, horrified that it was indeed the end of the story.

    6. I like this theory, but it doesn't work: Niki is described as only part Japanese, whereas Keiko is 'pure Japanese' (p. 10).

    7. Karen's theory really opens up a new train of thought! And @ Unknown (Feb 8), your comment made me question, then what happened to the baby that Etsuko was carrying? Then I realized that Etsuko could've miscarried and the image of miscarriage could've been like drowning a baby - connection to all the drowning imagery. After this happened, she could've felt the ultimate push in adopting Mariko as her own daughter, a pure Japanese daughter, which prompts her separation from Jiro, and in finding another (English) man, voila, Niki, a half-English and half-Japanese daughter.
      If Mariko really is Keiko, then it becomes self-explanatory why Keiko never tried to be a part of Niki and Niki's father's life. Though by going through this route, everything gets taken very literally as opposed to all the memory-language talk.

  18. Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful takes on this novel which I have just moments ago set down after a first reading. Grand to be able to bring my enthralled bafflement to the web for some help interpreting which threads of memory and emotion might weave together out of this deceptively simple narrative. My own suspicion from early on matches KarenP's of a week ago, that Mariko became Keiko by some means; however, I certainly had no notion till the pivotal rope-repetition and pronoun-shift that there might be identity rather than identification bonding Etsuko with Sachiko. That shock sent my brain scurrying back to the woman who drowned her baby, the murders of children, and of course the killing of the kittens. Then, there was the mysterious 'ghost' woman Mariko kept seeing ... well, you all know what that's like.

    So glad someone mentioned James's The Turn of the Screw -- one of my favourite books of all time, read nearly half a century ago, one that set me on a quest to find as many novels as I could that use an 'unreliable narrator'! So. Now to ponder, and to reread, and to enjoy the likelihood of an ongoing "pale view" of these hills of Nagasaki seen from afar in the English countryside long afterward. Lovely.

  19. This book has left me like a draw in a game of footy! I'm not sure whether I'm glad I can interpret the story as I wish or not. I think not though (at the time of typing anyway!). I would have preferred to be able to be certain of what happened rather than not.
    There are many more interpretations above than I thought, (having finished the book like others and jumped on here to figure out whether or not I'm dumb for feeling I'm hanging from the gutter after the ladder has been removed).
    I'm going with a little from everyone. It's as clear as mud! Thanks people, it's been fascinating reading :)


  20. Love your topic page.

    I also interpreted the scene where Etsuko has the rope as intention to mercy kill Mariko. The rope is reminiscent of earlier scene where rope is caught on her foot while she is bumbling down to the river, which may be clue she knew where it was. Also, reader is primed to this conclusion by the infanticide, the kittens, and the suicide by hanging. Mariko also seems to read Etsuko similarly - she is afraid of Etsuko with the rope and runs away.

    Anyway, regardless of whether or not she murders Mariko at that moment (I don't see evidence that she did); Etsuko later indirectly kills her daughter, Keiko, by bringing her to a country where she fails to thrive (suicide). The triggering of her memories of Japan may be due to guilt that she did precipitate death of her own daughter by sacrificing her daughter's life and happiness for her own.
    This theme of self vs. family is echoed in all the familiar relationships in the book.

    Anyway, great read - makes for great conversation.

  21. I love this book and love that it is imperfect and unreliable. That said, I am trying to figure it out. Mariko seems to be the same person as Keiko, without much doubt. Etsuko is full of guilt for Keiko's death by suicide and is existing drifting in and out of memory, transferring her own painful memories of Mariko/Keiko's childhood and her role as mother onto Sachiko's story (which is really partly her own story) - Sachiko seems to be a projection of Etsuko's memory - probably blending a real person into the story but I think Mariko is Keiko - the messed up psychology and trauma of Mariko's life just rings so true for a young adult suicide. It is tough to reconcile the rest of the characters and the timeline with this central tale. But I do not think Etsuko ever was a serial child murderer - hanging children lingers as a theme but it seems to be tangled up in Etsuko's guilt over Keiko's death, as opposed to her role in many murders. Whatever happened in the past, it seems certain that Etsuko had two children: one fully Japanese, the other half English - separated by a significant number of years and an even more significant difference in childhood experiences. One dead by suicide (after having lived through the trauma of post-war Japan and a disturbed mother trying to piece her lief together), the other alive. She had two husbands: one Japanese that she left behind (Keiko's father), the other British (Nikki's father). Other than that it seems Ishiguro has left it open to interpretation - and not purposefully - it really seems to be he was trying to accomplish a certain task in narration (not clear to me what) and reached a level (for him) that was good enough (it is brilliant in my estimation), the book is better than perfect, really. I am a criminal prosecutor and what has become interesting to me over the years in court is that memory and story and fact and guilt or non guilt are not static - it is very difficult to determine what happened (beyond a reasonable doubt) in many many many stories. Some people are so shattered by trauma, all we have left are pieces. That is how Keiko's life strikes me - we have Etsuko as the unreliable witness/perpetrator telling us what happened to Keiko that made her kill herself - that is the one truth that emerges from the book - I have a good understanding why Keiko killed herself. That truth emerges. Another way to consider this (that I just thought of) is that Sachiko has created Etsuko to tell her (Sachiko's story). Great conversation on this blog - thank you!

  22. I have just re-read A Pale View of Hills for the 4th or 5th time since my first reading in the early 90s. I have enjoyed the comments here, all very thought-provoking. I think the ambiguity within the narrative is essentially what makes me return to this book periodically - like all good art it is forever open to (re)interpretation. By far Ishiguro's best book in my view.

  23. I'm actually reading this book in light of my study of the 'after the bomb' period with all the cold war anxieties
    We get Ogata commenting on the breakdown of traditions and also his view on politics and the changing role of women
    It is definitely interesting to see how Etsuko tries to come to terms with her past
    I agree with the interpretation of Sachiko being a sort of parallel character to Etsuko.
    There is definitely some creepy imagery in relations to swings and ropes - as is seen at the end of Part One when Etsuko tells Niki of the dream of the little girl on the swing "the little girl isn't on a swing at all. It seemed like that at first. But it's not a swing she's on" - I later took this as Etsuko's envisionment of Keiko hanging herself. However, as there is no real sense of resolution at the end, it could just as easily be her memories of the deaths of children (if she was indeed the murderer)

  24. Thank you for this brilliant discussion. I have just finished reading this book and I am very confused. I figured out early on that Etsuko is an unreliable narrator, but that pivotal scene with the switch to the first person and of course the rope realy threw me... I'm not sure what interpretation to adopt and I'm not sure Ishiguro has a firm "truth" in mind either. I think this book will occupy my thoughts for a while.

  25. Hmm. I think from reading all this its clear that the author wanted to leave a lot open for interpretation. The comments earlier on from his interview seem to suggest that the memories recalled in the book are more about the frame of mind of Etsuko now than an accurate representation of the past. I've been thinking through all the possible readings suggested here and have agreed with them all at one point or another, though each leaves gaps to be had in making sense of other parts of the plot. At first I was convinced that Sachiko was Etsuko later in her life and that the interaction between Etsuko and Sachiko (which almost always occurred without anyone else but Mariko present), was Etsuko's younger self trying to make her older self a better person, whilst her older self tried to convince the younger to be a better mother to her child (there were a lot of references throughout to the problems of motherhood for the post-war community). Then I thought perhaps Etsuko might instead, or as well as, be this child murderer. It is hinted many times that she had a severely traumatic experience in the war, after which her father-in-law took her in. It would make sense if Etsuko's nervousness about motherhood also stemmed from her seeing that woman drown her baby during the war. Then there were the peculiarities where Mariko first 'mistakes' Etsuko for the (same?) pale woman who keeps asking her to come away with her. This all becomes more ominous with these child murders happening.

    To take a less literal view of all this, it makes most sense to me if the whole book is to be considered in light of Keiko's suicide and Etsuko's reservations about motherhood and the crime of bringing up a child in a post-war world. Her memories seem to be a crowded recollection of the crumbling of old Japan and the new fashions of the West permeating this culture for better or for worse. The reference to the rope continually entangled about Etsuko's foot makes sense to me in this light.The swinging child in Etsuko's dream may be the girl she heard of in the news who had been hung, blended with her own daughter whom she never saw, but was hanging for days in her apartment in England. This becomes bound up with the guilt that it was Etsuko's flight from Japan without regard for her daughter's well-being that makes it feel as if she tied the noose about her daughter's neck when she long ago made that choice. In light of this, the recollections about Sachiko and Mariko make sense as a story warped by time to explore Etsuko's own feelings of guilt and regret about her life. That crucially confusing scene at the end on the bridge really seems to make most sense to me in this light. The narrator breaks into the narrative. The recurring rope is tripping her up, but the rope is also in her hands and about to hang the child. We've just had a scene where Sachiko drowns the kittens - symbolic perhaps (and maybe real in Sachiko's story), of the disregard both women had of their daughters in their desperation to escape the staleness of their present lives and the trauma of the memories living in Japan continually revisits upon them.

    Also throughout the book is the interesting dichotomy of women looking with hope towards the possibilities that life in the West might bring them (along with perhaps an underlying knowledge that emigration will never really solve their problems) - especially important in this regard I think is the scene with the American woman, who Sachiko speaks to very warmly, whilst all the while scorning her fellow Japanese women. This is in contrast to most of the men in the book, who are in some way clinging to the past (exceptions are people like Shigeo, who question the traditions of
    the old way of life).

  26. And just a couple more thoughts to finish up...

    It seems to me to be less a coherent retelling of events and more a book that meditates on the difficulties in Japan post WWII - how to be Japanese in the Western world, the problems there were in the rigidness of past tradition, and trying to find meaning in a world where everything has been torn apart. Almost everyone in the book has suffered horrific tragedy in the war and is now just trying to live on and build their lives anew whilst coming to terms with their loss.

    For Etsuko, the problem of the choice of which way of life to choose seems apparent in the lives of her daughters- to stay in a war-torn Japan seems embodied in Keiko and Mariko – to move to the West is to leave behind the old way of living (the positive side of this was continually emobodied in caring for elder relatives and living with them). The tragedy of Keiko and the distance between Etsuko and Niki really seem to epitomise the inevitability that both of these situations would lead to one way or another...

  27. Etsuko is probably Sachiko. The whole novel is to me essentially like Etsuko is trying to justify her actions in the past. From the Etsuko-Sachiko conversation, you can somewhat see that Sachicko seems to be asking Etsuko for approval all the time. "Arent you happy for me" and what not, like she needs someone elses approval.

    And maybe the Mariko(Keiko?) is scared of the rope thing is kinda like a premonition that shes gonna die from hanging. Thats what I feel about that scene and It kinda creep me out a bit tbh.

    Plus when Niki asked what so special about the harbour at Nagasaki, Etsuko answers they ride cable cars that day and Keiko was so happy at that time when in fact, she was supposed to be pregnant at that time and Mariko was the one with her.

    Or I completely misread the whole novel and is now trying to make sense what is going on. Either way, a nice read and a good introduction to Ishiguro works for me!!!

  28. Neither woman is a murderer. Keiko and Mariko are not the same person.

    There's a short part near the end where Etsuko is talking to Keiko about moving to England. It's placed in the narrative where Etsuko is going to look for Mariko. It's one of several parallels in the novel, another one is Mariko witnessing "the woman" drowning her baby and Mariko's mother drowning the kittens.

    The whole point of the Mariko story is that Etsuko was trying to be a good mother to Keiko because of how Mariko was mistreated, but in the end she did the same thing to Keiko that Sachiko did to Mariko, she made her leave her home.

    Re Keiko on the cable cars, gee whiz, they lived pretty close to em, doncha think they coulda gone more than once?

    1. Yes, this is the most sensible interpretation here. I also interpreted the remark to Niki about remembering the trip when Keiko was happy more or less at face value -- she's remembering a different day on the cable cars etc.

  29. OR:
    Etsuko is Sachiko. Keiko is Mariko (the first child). She kills her second child by drowning and Mariko sees her. Niki is the 3rd child, raised abroad. Sachiko is not a serial child murderer but other mothers in the city, after the horrors of The Bomb, resort to infanticide.
    Or not...

    1. This actually makes a lot of sense, because even in the beginning when Mariko tells Etsuko about the woman telling her she'll take her home, Etsuko laughs and says she must have imagined her. Moreover, if Sachiko is a projection of Etsuko's personality, the parallel between Mariko/Keiko watching Sachiko drown the kittens and Etsuko/the ghost woman drowning the baby fits in perfectly.

      But. It still leaves a lot of questions such as why she would kill the second child at all, the father and the family and Jiro.

  30. Could it be that Etsuko has narrated the entire story pretty accurately except the episode on the bridge which happened with Keiko instead of Mariko. When it was Etsuko's turn to go to Britain, she might have come very close to murdering Keiko because she considered her a hassle. Later, guilt-striken, she reconstructed the event as having happened perfectly innocuously years earlier with Mariko with whom she had developed an almost daughter-like bond. However, poor Keiko, although unable to understand fully, was so traumatized that she could never trust her mother again and developed psychological problems which led to her suicide.

    It is hinted in the novel that Etsuko is not very pleased with her pregnancy. Her husband is emotionally distant. Moreover his lack of respect and patience with his own father could have turned her heart off parenthood. During this time, women in general are growing increasingly dissatisfied with their position in Japan. She had also probably taken inspiration from the very ambitious Sachiko. There could have been jealousy too. In fact when Sachiko drowns the kittens, Etsuko, although worried about Mariko, does nothing to stop her. She probably agrees that the kittens had to be got rid of.

    Still it is difficult to blame Etsuko. The novel is an excellent illustration of how over a period, tiny niggles which are a part of 'daily life' sometimes drive a 'normal' person over the edge.

    On an unrelated tangent, I'd like to mention that I discovered Kazuo Ishiguro only last week and have already read and thoroughly enjoyed two of his brilliant works. Probably an indication of what a big admirer I have become of this master storyteller. His insight into human psychology is astounding.

    1. Note the way Etsuko speaks to the (unnamed) little girl on the bridge. Her tone is entirely different in this scene than in any other dialogue between her and Mariko.

      The little (unnamed) girl in this scene is Keiko, not Mariko. Keiko does not want to move to England. It isn't clear why they are moving, but it is possibly because Etsuko got tired of putting up with her demanding husband and his old-fashioned ways. Or he could be dead.

      I don't think either mother is a child-killer. Although, it is entirely possible that Mariko drowns while trying to rescue her kittens from drowning.

      The entire novel is Etsuko trying to figure out why Keiko committed suicide. She is searching her mind for some reason, or more accurately for a way to blame herself. The reason she thinks of her friendship with Sachiko is that Sachiko is a terrible mother. Possibly the reason that the only scene where Keiko speaks is the one on the bridge is that the bridge is where Etsuko last saw Mariko, a sweet little girl whose mother did not care about her.

      Mariko possibly drowned trying to rescue her kittens, accidentally killing herself.

      If I am wrong about the identity of the girl on the bridge, I am at least correct about this: Etsuko speaks to the little girl the way Sachiko speaks to Mariko throughout the novel. Etsuko does not speak to Mariko, or anyone else in the novel, for that matter, using this commanding sort of tone.

      The girl on the bridge is Keiko. I believe it says "[Etsuko] could almost see Mariko running up the riverbank" or something like that as the girl runs away. It doesn't say "Mariko ran up the riverbank" at any rate, and Etsuko had no reason to speak harshly to Mariko, if Mariko was the girl on the bridge...which she wasn't.

      It was Keiko.

    2. I agree with your analysis. I was very confused when the third person narrative turned to the first person narrative on page 172. Stopped me dead in my tracks. Went back and read it over and over, read the pages leading up to it over and over. I came to the conclusion that the voice of the first person narrative has always been Etsuko and that when Ishiguro changes to the first person narrative, it is a signal that Etsuko is speaking. There is too much description of Etsuko's life as a young wife, daughter-in-law and mother for me to think that Etsuko was Sachiko. Sachiko is a highly developed character in her own right.

      It is the death of Keiko that triggers Etsuko to think back on Sachiko. I agree that the whole novel is about Etsuko trying to deal with the suicide of Keiko.

      During the scene on the bridge, neither character is identified by name. This leaves their identity open, but as I said, Ishiguro only used the first person narrative when Etsuko was speaking. I think the bridge scene is later after her baby Keiko is born and is a little girl. Some unknown, but difficult circumstance, has put Etsuko in the same position that Sachiko was: having to leave Japan with her daughter Keiko, perhaps with an Englishman who becomes Niki's father.

      I never felt Etsuko was a murderer. I think the murders were brought up to demonstrate how selfish and irresponsible Sachiko was as a mother. Even the threat of possible danger/death to Mariko did not make Sachiko take care of her daughter.

  31. At any rate, and remember this is only my opinion, I think any interpretation that involves either Etsuko or Sachiko plotting the death of either Mariko or Keiko (or even considering it) is incorrect. Although I must admit that this novel (one of the best I have ever read, BTW) leaves a lot open to interpretation. I just think the jump from "horrible mother" (which Sachiko certainly is) to "daughter killer" is, well, a bit of a stretch. Just my opinion.

    1. Did you read the first comment, from the interview with Ishiguro? This is a key point I think: "So the whole narrative strategy of the book was about how someone ends up talking about things they cannot face directly through other people's stories. I was trying to explore that type of language, how people use the language of self-deception and self-protection." Etsuko is certainly an unreliable narrator.

    2. I did read that, and your interpretation may very well be correct. She is unreliable, at least in the sense that she's not telling the whole story.

      But with regard to the quote, especially with regard to "talking about things they cannot face directly through other people's stories," well...the novel is framed with scenes from England, after Keiko's suicide. The story told in the middle is mostly about Mariko and Sachiko. Their story parallels Etsuko and Keiko's in many ways. This could be, like you said, an indicator that a large portion of the novel is just delusion, but personally, I didn't read it that way. To me, Etsuko looking back at Sachiko and Mariko is exactly what Ishiguro said, that being Etsuko talking about something she cannot face directly through other people's stories. The "other people" here being Sachiko and Mariko.

      The "other people" part of the quote, to my mind, actually discredits the idea that Sachiko is Etsuko and Mariko is Keiko. If you have a different opinion with regard to that, please give it.

      Re "self-deception and self-protection," maybe Etsuko just imagined all or part of the novel. Maybe a lot of it never actually happened. But which parts happened, and which parts were imagined? How does the reader know? My interpretation assumes all of it really happened. Maybe the gaps in the narrative are not actually indicative of Etsuko being an unreliable narrator, maybe they are indicative of gaps in memory.

      Maybe the self-deception and self-protection indicate that Etsuko is drawing more parallels between herself as a mother and Sachiko as a mother than there really were. There are many instances of Sachiko being mean to Mariko, but (presumably) only one single solitary scene of Etsuko and Keiko talking to each other. And it just happens to be one of the times they weren't getting along. Maybe Ishiguro meant Etsuko was deceiving herself into thinking she was a bad mother, like Sachiko most certainly was.

      Maybe I'm wrong.

    3. If you look at the post again, I said that I favor "Interpretation #2"; Interpretation #1 is the one that says Sachiko is Etsuko and Mariko is Keiko.

      However, I never re-read this and it was so long ago I can't really remember the book.

  32. I must be the odd one out here because when I finished it, I thought that Keiko was was Mariko and Etsuko had adopted her and taken her away with her (maybe killed Sachiko). But yeah, all that has been said and read by me in the discussion thread, makes SO much more sense.
    I just need to put a lil more thought into my analyses haha.

  33. I literally just finished reading this in a day, but immediately started googling for reviews because I like certain aspects of the book a lot but also hadn't (and still haven't) really formed a coherent theory about wtf was going on with the overarching plot and wanted to see what others were saying. I still have not come to a definite opinion on this, but one passage I haven't seen others mention yet that I think at least supports Interpretation 1 is in the very first chapter: Etsuko narrates: "....I heard two women talking at the tram stop, about the woman who had moved into her derelict house by the river. One was explaining to her companion how she had spoken to the woman that morning and had received a clear snub. Her companion agreed the newcomer seemed unfriendly -- proud probably . . ." Later we understand this newcomer is Sachiko, but Etsuko then goes on to say in the next paragraph: "Now I do not doubt that amongst those women I lived with then, there were those who had suffered, those with sad and terrible memories . . . It was never MY intention to appear unfriendly." (emphasis added) To me that is a muddling of the Etsuko-Sachiko identities from the very outset of the novel. There are just so many other threads, though, that don't feel remotely resolved -- e.g., Etsuko alludes to a "Nakamura-San" whom she apparently loved but "nothing had been decided" but he's never mentioned after that, how she exactly came to be taken into Ogata-San's house is similarly unclear, and was what going with the apparent rift between Sachiko/Etsuko and her cousin? It was a good book but I felt constantly pulled in a 1000 different directions with different plot points being thrown out there and never really figuring out what was going on with any of them. I have read and like many of Ishiguro's novels (and have to think that the constant allusions to "Kazuo," whom is only ever indirectly referenced in the novel as Ms. Fujiwara's son, and who she is constantly fretting works too much to find a wife, is perhaps a wry reference to his own relationship with his mother). This felt the most "unfinished" of his novels that I have read, but at least parts of it were great and I'm really enjoying reading the various interpretations of it in these comments, even if I'm 3+ years too late reading this post.

  34. Hi, Elisa. Greetings from Spain. As most of you, I finished the book some weeks ago and I ended up very excited, but very doubtful about the meaning of the story and the secret around the characters. I put down the name of the novel in Google and I've gone this blog, in which I had a really good time reading your comments and approaches. Anyway, I don't know if you have mentioned two linked passages in the novel that can be very clarifying. Close to the end, Etsuko shows to her daughter a calendar and she tells that ists views are related to Inasa, where she lived a very especial excursion day with Keiko. This revelation connects with another excursion with Setsuko and Nariko narrated in last chapters, that ends up when Mariko is playing with another kid in a tree and she caused a little accident. That was certainly a special day for Etsuko, and afterwards she remembered it in the end of book. The link between both passages is very clear.

    Best regards!

  35. Hello. Just finished the book. Stunned for half an hour. When I came back to my senses, my first thought was Etsuko and Sachiko are the same. In fact, I thought Etsuko invented Sachiko to dissociate herself from her past actions. Now this probably means E. did drown the kittens, and did leave Japan with her girl (Keiko). She invents Mariko, and gives her what was wrong with Keiko; which at least partly is her fault. Guilt is known to trigger dissociative personality; here are talking about dissociative personality by proxy.
    If we go with this interpretation, the business with the rope, child murders, and the pale woman become symbolic.
    Maybe it's just me, but can't imagine a serial child murderer living with her memories, dissociation or not.

  36. I thought I had it all sussed - I consider myself a highly intelligent reader of novels, until, all of a sudden, there were no more pages, only black leaves. the story had ended. like most readers that so kindly shared their reviews here, I was stunned and confused but decide to retrace the last pages logically. Keiko, who hanged, had been confirmed to be Mariko when she told Niki of the outing in the hills. I assumed Setsuko went to America but left Mariko alone in the cottage so Etsuko adopted her. Husband Jiro was transferred by his Japanese firm to England. I always hoped Setsuko would leave Mariko with the old cousin and uncle in Japan (hence there would have been no need to cruelly drown the kittens) but Mariko probably stubbornly refused tu budge from the cottage though her mother had already left for Kobe. No one got murdered and the only victim of a messed up psyche is Mariko who later became known as Keiko.

  37. can someobody tell me 3 reasons why Sachiko and mariko were confabulated by etsuko

  38. In my opinion, I think that Mariko herself was Keiko, and that Sachiko was a projection of Etsuko's, um...can we say, woes at not being a good mother. She herself states that her recollection of memories could be unreliable, indicating that she was viewing Sachiko from a detached perspective - Etsuko. It could be that over time she did indeed become a better mother...and this "better mother" is how she chose to portray the Etsuko of her memories, whereas the Sachiko of her memories was how she used to be. As far as the 'rope' that scared Mariko in the last scene was concerned...I think it could just be a symbolism of how Etsuko was sealing Mariko/Keiko to this inevitable fate, and thereby "hanging" her.

    However, I still remain confused regarding the appearance of the "ghost", the parallels with the drowning episodes...and the father of Nikki. For some reason, I kept imagining her father (as absurd as may be) to be Shigeo Matsuda because of the repeated mentioning of his articles, and towards the end Niki obsessively reading her father's articles....any thoughts?

  39. At one point she said that her husband could never really understand Japanese culture. I took that to confirm that he was not Japanese....... But, Shigeo didn't understand "traditional Japanese culture ". You may be onto something.

    My interpretation about the rope is that Etsuko/Sachico character contemplated strangling or hanging her daughter. She could not follow through. In the end her daughter may have hung herself because of those early memories.

  40. I thought it was a rather straightforward story of guilt. Etsuko decided to leave japan for uk, bringing her daughter Keiko along to live with her new husband. Keiko did not adapt well in the new family and ended up killing herself. Etsuko is traumatised and feels immense guilt. She feels she 'murdered' her child with her selfish decision. What she is doing when she tells the story of Sachiko and Mariko (and the child murders) are basically projecting what happened in the UK back to Japan, pushing them into a past which she was supposed to have already left behind. Of course, as we can see it still does nothing for the pain and guilt she feels.

  41. Thanks to everyone! I agree primarily with the last comment. Everyone is real and everyone is independent of everyone else, but in memory one projects one's own traumas. Another very useful comment above by Amelia shows that Etsuko is doing this from the beginning. Again, thank you all! Finished the novel last night and really needed this.

  42. I am reading the book now and at the same time writing an analysis. It's just amazing to get all these comments here. It's like the dinner is served even before you have ordered it. I have promised a nwesportal that I'll write 7 long critics on the 7 seven novels of Ishiguro. After writing the first one and getting it published, I'll show what I've gathered. Thanks everyone!

  43. I am really thrilled to see so many analytical views on this book. Right now, I'm reading this book and at the same time writing a critic on it. I took a huge responsibility to prepare 7 long critics on the 7 novels of Ishiguro. Can't thank you enough as these comments are immensely helping me to establish my writing. It's like the dinner is on the table even before you have ordered. Thanks again.

  44. I just finished this book.
    My observations-
    1/ Throughout I had an under lying sense of horror and suspense and anticipation about something macabre being revealed. But I did have a sense of anti climax when nothing was apparently revealed.
    2/ From the last scene on the bridge it becomes very clear that Etsuko and Sachiko are in fact the same. Mariko is Keiko. The story Etsuko is narrating all along is her own. That is the most logical explanation.
    3/ In my opinion, possible explanation no.2 or no.3 are not logical as all things do not fit in. There remain several loopholes.
    4/ However, as is with Ishiguro's style, he prefer to gloss over the simple explanations such as why was Keiko or Mariko like that in the first place, who was that " woman" she kept seeing (one aasumption is that it was the mother herself who wanted to kill the daughter as she found her an impediment in her bigger plans), if sachiko and Etsuko were the same person, why were their personalities shown so different, etc.
    5/ If Japan was like that 50 years ago, I can say it was damn well irritating. Ogata san's interference in his son's affairs, Jiro's behaviour with his wife, that plump woman's ideas about how children should be brought up- so ancient! It was so frustration at times to read, I felt like skipping that part...But I think that is precisely what th author wants to say...How Japan was changing and how the old people resented it.

    I am not too fond of Ishiguro. I have feeling his writing (at least this book) is not nobel prize worth stuff. It's frustrating and expects too much of the reader.
    Pardon me if I have offended anyone.

  45. I agree with Dipali on all counts. I have not read or heard much of other Literature Nobel prize recipients' books/works, so I cannot say if Ishiguro is worthy or not.


  46. There is absolutely no way to know. The character describes her own memories as unreliable. And it is completely a story of memories. We Americans like things to be perfect and wrapped up in a little present. But most cultures don't care so much about that. This isn't an m. night shamalan movie. It's a great writer's first attempt and even he has said that it was flawed and not fully worked through.

    That being said, I believe it to be a story of guilt. Etsuko is using the story of Sachiko and Mariko to give some meaning to her own despair. And the story of jiro and ogata to deal with parental guilt and derision.

    There is just not nearly enough evidence to convince the reader that etsuko is really sachiko, or the child murderer or anything other than what she is shown to be. A mother distraught over her actions to leave her husband for another man and country, and her guilt that these actions caused her first daughter to commit suicide.

    She sees direct parallels between her own decision and sachikos, and seeing the child on the swing (the rope a metaphor for her own daughter hanging) brings back a flood of suppressed emotions. Memories are twisted, she blames herself. It is a very haunting journey through her haunted past

  47. I didn't like the book because I thought of the author's conceit trying to write as if a pregnant Japanese woman, which didn't ring true. Whether deliberate or not (and I read - with many thanks) that the author himself said it was sloppy/too many loose ends), if you're pregnant you wouldn't be galavanting all over like she does. Going for long walks, up hills, etc. Or maybe she wasn't really pregnant.
    Also calling children (name)-san. It would be -chan if I'm not mistaken.
    The woman with a bratty son at the cable cars was bragging about him. From what I remember bragging is not done.
    I think Ishiguro is a little misogynistic in this first novel of his about a very callous, superficial woman/women. Etsuko appears to be a high-functioning psychopath or narcissist, and is projecting her situation as if someone else's, because such types also leave things vague - esp about themselves. And they are survivors. Etsuko is likely the murderer (so unusual to have a serial child-killer - and a good story as a female - in post-bomb Nagasaki - as if those horrors weren't bad enough, but maybe makes a good cover? Don't know). She didn't care a whit about her daughter and seemed to enjoy being cruel to her which is consistent with such a personality disorder, whether brought on by war/family trauma or genetics - and she still doesn't care - neither does Keiko's own sister (fruit not falling far from the tree?), who didn't bother to come to the funeral or even mention her until day 2 of her 5-day visit, and Etsuko only mentions her DAUGHTER'S DEATH "because those were the circumstances around Niki's visit this April..."
    The step-father (seems to me Keiko was sacrificed - he used to go to bars to pick up younger women, and maybe the only way he'd actually take on Etsuko is with access to Keiko - and why Keiko was betrayed again by her mother - and why she stayed in her room, only taking food on a tray, etc - it's not normal - yet they all let it continue?!)
    If we're talking unreliable narrator, it isn't even a given that Keiko committed suicide, altho there was ample reason for her to do so, if all the abuse and no one to turn to, ie her own mother, is implied. Suicide was written as only assumed by the English press as a racial propensity. But with all the allusions to ropes, swings, hangings and muddy ground getting in her sandals (he makes a point of saying so quite a few times as you're thinking, who cares?), but Etsuko knows better...
    I think Etsuko had an affair with or ran off with the English reporter, who Keiko hated and kept calling a pig. Why such vehemence and room seclusion?
    The synopsis is that "it's a story of betrayal and survival...". Sachiko/Etsuko betrayed her daughter horribly with the kittens. Mariko/Keiko also saw (who? Her mother?) drowning a baby, and this person was smiling as she was watching the child watching her. Sick. Was the baby "very dirty" too, like the kittens (Sachiko)? And the spider (Etsuko)?
    Kids also have that sixth sense of knowing if people are genuine/good or not. She was afraid of Etsuko. She got stuck with two care-givers who were abysmal.
    Niki is somehow there to tell her mother not to be ashamed of what she did, but she doesn't know the whole story, or that her mother is probably a killer, very cruel to her eldest anyway for the things she did, and maybe even killed Keiko herself, as she mulled (sadistically?) the horror of hearing about the condition Keiko was found in days later. Maybe also to protect herself if the truth came out. Keiko, as the victim, would know the truth about her abuse, and perhaps also about the murderer. Etsuko has her nice house in the English countryside, her genteel facade to maintain, not even telling the neighbours of her child's death. Not normal at all. A very pale (hind) view indeed.

  48. I'm having trouble posting my entire post here for some I'll post in parts.

    1) Based off of Ishiguro's comments about the book in the interview mentioned earlier "So the whole narrative strategy of the book was about how someone ends up talking about things they cannot face directly through other people's stories.", it seems clear now to me that Etsuko is reminiscing about these people she once knew in her past (Sachiko and Mariko) through the lens of her own story with her daughter Keiko. This is evident in the bridge scene at the end, where her narrative framework breaks down and we either A.) see a past scene between Etsuko and Keiko where she is trying to console her about coming to England. B.) see a past scene where Etsuko goes looking for Mariko and Mariko says the American man is like a pig (something she also says earlier) but then the memory shifts to the conversation she has with Keiko. The point here is, past words spoken between her and Keiko are shown here, revealing the parallel that exists between Etsuko and Sachiko's lives.

    I do not think either woman is the child murderer. As someone else on this thread posited, I think that was injected by the author to further show Sachiko's carelessness as a mother. I think the whole rope getting caught on Etsuko's foot occurs because she feels constant guilt by Keiko's inevitable suicide that was ultimately a result of coming to England. We already know she is an unreliable narrator, which can be why Mariko is afraid of her and the rope. This part could be an inaccurate memory Etsuko has from her guilt.

  49. 2.) Again, as several people here already mention, Ishiguro mentions that this book is flawed and there are some things that don't add up. Like for example, to me, based on this theory that Etsuko and Sachiko are in fact not the same person, why mention in the end of the book to Niki the special day Etsuko and Keiko shared at that same place she had a special day with with Sachiko and Mariko? To me, this is one of those flawed parts that only leads to confusion and makes the reader wonder that they were the same person, when in fact they were not.

    I also like what someone else on this thread suggested, the possibility that Shigeo is Niki's father. This theory comes from a few things: Niki obsessing and reading through her father's articles, Etsuko mentioning early in the book that her husband could never really understand Japanese culture. I also took that to confirm that he was not Japanese, but Shigeo didn't understand "traditional Japanese culture ". We also see Niki's progressive thinking in regards to women, and perhaps this modern position could have come from her father, Shigeo. I kind of like this possibility.

    Also, a part of me thinks that something macabre went down with Mariko after her mother drowned the cats. I think Mariko slips and falls trying to save them, and ultimately dies, which is why this whole memory of Mariko and Shachiko leave an indelible mark in Etsuko's memory. If everything had turned out fine and they moved away to Kobe or America as planned, perhaps she wouldn't have so easily related to their sad story.

    Apart from all this plot ambiguity, I think it's interesting that the person she seems to really get on well with and who is an overall very likable character is Ogata-San, someone who we realize is the epitome of "old tradition". He shows no interest or sympathy in the possibility of Jiro's colleague beating his wife over a political dispute, but rather is more perturbed by the wife's divergence in political opinion. There are plenty more examples throughout the book about Ogata-San's old fashioned sensibilities, particularly when it comes to women's role in Japanese society, but I like how it comes out in that scene with Shiguo, who we realize is actually in the right, leaving Ogata-San clearly in the wrong. We don't really know what went down in the past, but we the reader certainly get an idea of the role Ogata-San had in the past. This reminds me a lot of Lord Darlington from Remains of the Day, a well-meaning character who ultimately contributed to an evil plot.

  50. I think Mariko, Niki and Keiko are the same person, like how Etsuko and Sachiko are the same.

    Mariko living with trauma, Niki young and troubled, Keiko remembered by her mother looking back at their lives and how the change old tradition and Japan and the new life in a new country as well as her choices as a mother played out as it did.


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