Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 3, June-August, 1997
Half-Japanese and half-English, Niki in Ishiguro's novel tries to be as much of a Western woman as she can be. A Japanese woman is expected to get married, have children, and then spend the rest of their life fulfilling her duties as a wife and a mother. No extra-familial social life is considered necessary for her. On the contrary, the West does not have this expectation of a woman. She has the liberty to choose the direction of her own life. Raised in England, Niki values this freedom and does not have marriage or motherhood as goals in her life. Those who want "a load of kids" (180) have been "brainwashed," she says (180). Apparently ashamed of her Japanese heritage, Niki is condescending to her mother, Etsuko, and makes no effort to establish a congenial relation with Keiko, her step-sister.
Although Keiko came to England at an early age, she fails to adapt herself to the host country or host family. She lives "in a strange city where no one knew her" and "admidst her own family without being seen for days on end" (54). She is viewed by others as anti-social and sullen. Her English stepfather, an expert writer on Japanese culture, attributes Keiko's personality to her Japanese heritage and her past life in Tokyo while Etsuko regrets the "attitudes displayed towards" her elder daughter (88). Consequently, Keiko hangs herself because from her perspective, the West is a place where she does not belong.
The third woman, in "The Young Zelkova," is a young Korean living in contemporary Korea with fantasies of the West. She becomes a homecoming queen, takes up tennis, and dreams of the West as a place where she and her step-brother can live together legally and happily as man and wife. Sukhui addresses her stepfather as "Monsieur" although he is not even French, and falls in love with his son who, in her eyes, resembles the Greek god Apollo, with curls dangling over his forehead. The portraits of this trio give a glimpse of the mentality of some young Japanese and Koreans. First, there is an inclination to move away from tradition, as exemplified by Niki. Her name is intended to retain only a "vague echo of the east" so as to satisfy Etsuko's, in her own words, "selfish desire not to be reminded of the past." Sukhui displays the tendency to romanticize Western culture while Keiko demonstrates the pains of dislocation. Neither Niki nor Sukhui realizes that a life in a land of freedom, wealth, and opportunities does not necessarily guarantee happiness, as Keiko has the misfortune to experience. Even the idea of the West as a better place to live than Asia may change as we approach the year 2,000, which marks the beginning of the Pacific Century.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. London: Faber and Faber, 1982.
Kang, Sinjae. "The Young Zelkova." In Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean Stories. Ed. and trans. Peter Lee. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974. 319- 347.
Illustration by Billy Lo