I enjoyed both Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans tremendously. It was his name that first caught my eye because, well, how many Japanese authors do you see that write in English? Upon perusal though, I realized that the subject matter, setting and prose of both titles are very British. Yet, something about their writing style, overall mood and character struck me as distinctly Japanese. The answer came to me yesterday as I was looking at Ishiguro’s Wikipedia page, which stated that many of his stories embody the concept of mono no aware. Roughly translated, this means an awareness of the transience of things and the deep poignancy of their passing. It is manifested in the sense of sombre regret and quiet resignation that pervades the two novels I read. In both, the present narrative is intersected with memories of bygone years. The protagonist embarks on a physical journey that provides insight into the past and acts as foil for mental and emotional transformation. In The Remains of the Day, Stevens the ageing butler of Darlington Hall takes a leisurely trip to the countryside that allows him to reflect on past failings in his interaction with Miss Kenton, former housekeeper. With their meeting, their ambiguous relationship finally achieves closure and the pair are able to experience a degree of peace and contentment in their lives. Banks of When We Were Orphans returns to his childhood home of Shanghai to locate his parents but receives an almost unbearable truth instead. Eventually, he finds comfort in the knowledge that his mother cared for him all her life, and seeks consolation in his adopted daughter Jennifer as well.
This poem by Robert Frost, titled ‘A Patch of Old Snow’, also drew my attention with its representation of mono no aware:
There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.
It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten–
If I ever read it.
Despite its simplicity, it succeeds in capturing depth of feeling. I really appreciate the lucidity of Frost’s poetry.
In addition, I finished The Great Gatsby, Muriel Barberry’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love this summer (reviews coming if I can manage). A pretty impressive feat. Bookstores are my favourite place to while the afternoon away discovering a new author or browsing through inspiring images in the art and design section. I miss the HUGE Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall (the biggest one in the world, apparently). Next on my reading list: Ishiguro’s other novels, Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour.