A book that won’t let me go

This month our book club read the dystopian masterpiece by Japanese born/British citizen Kazuo Ishiguro “Never Let me Go”. It, along with his first two novels  “An Artist of the Floating World” and “A Pale View of Hills” have been on my “must read” list for literally years (since its release in 2005.) I love the depth and breadth of his literary imagination and wanted to know all he had to offer, but like so many other things that I knew I would not only enjoy but would also be good for me, like learning to ride abike, or really swim laps, or grow my own organic vegetables, or make a seven-day backpacking trip, I never seemed to get around to it until outside forces motivated me.

I had even owned the book. The lovely green paperback kept migrating to my “read it now” shelf, but then some new shiny author would draw me into their back list with their tantalizing prose and I would forget the love affair I had with Ishiguru’s telling. Eventually I lent it to someone who had seen the movie and it disappeared into that place books without nameplates in them always seem to go. You know that place of not remembering exactly who it is lent it to, and them not remembering where they borrowed it from either. In all fairness I have two books like that on my shelf, books I know I did not purchase but do not know from whom they came.

Having “Never Let me Go” selected for August was the impetus to repurchase and finally read this literary sci-fi coming of age story. Told in the first person by one of the students of an unusual private school which was created as an ethical question as much as an answer, this book covers everything from disenfranchisement based on birth (particularly pertinent in the face of current class wars) to the meaning of mortality. In the stories climax I was reminded of the current “morality” wars as well, when those who deemed themselves worthy to ascertain the presence or absence of souls in other life forms or revealed to be the most soulless and self-serving.

This novel truly won’t let me go, my mind keeps returning to the story and its author and how he elegantly tells in the fictional lives of three young students all the horror and redemption humanity is capable of committing.

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954, his family moved to England when he was 6 years old. The cultural questions of both homes are reflected in this novel. One’s family could not be from Nagasaki in the 1950’s and not be gravely aware of how ethics are forgotten in the pursuit of  “greater good”; and England in the 1960’s was suffering the culmination of the Post-war class crisis as well as a wholesale abandonment of religion. Much was being made of  the “winds of change” freeing women, empowering the poor, allowing the working classes to get their own piece of the pie. The “Work hard, do what you are told and you will be aptly rewarded ” ethos began to crumble under a new bottom line, and then its inspired social programs all fell apart as violent student protests and numerous race riots turned the tide again, reimposing stringent class lines  based now more on new money than old blood. In this century, the use of sweatshop labour in non-English countries to let western consumers “have it all”; the destruction and raping of natural resources in third world countries so growth can continuously be supported are easily analogous to the organs being cut from the “donors” until they complete.

In the tradition of other great authors of fictional social commentary such as Swift, Twain or Orwell, Ishiguro uses an engaging story to (hopefully) awaken the reader to look at life and their own choices just a little differently. As for me, I will get to his other books sooner now, and probably reread his later ones as well.

I am glad that another “meant to” has become an “I have.” I do swim and bike now, ate my first “homegrown in Arizona” organic vegetables this summer, have new seedlings ready to plant and will begin backpack daytrips as soon as it cools down a bit here.  As this book reminds me, we all “complete,” so I will continue to carpe my diem, and as I run and bike and dig in the soil today I know bits of this book will come floating back to my consciousness again with some new resonance, for this is truly a book that will “Never Let me Go.”


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