‘A Strange And Sometimes Sadness’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Strange And Sometimes Sadness by Kazuo Ishiguro, 1981

The magic trick:

Simple, crystal clear, profoundly moving scenes

I is for Ishiguro.

It’s a real shame for the form that he didn’t devote more of his talent to the short story. Music, screenwriting, and most obviously the novel won over the bulk of his time. The few short stories he has written, though, are remarkable – “A Strange And Sometimes Sadness” maybe most so.

Each scene feels fully realized and never just a mere transition. One in particular is haunting. The narrator recalls eating a meal with her best friend and her best friend’s father. The memory is from long ago, in the last days in Nagasaki before the atomic bomb. We, as a reader, have already been told that the narrator’s best friend was killed by the bomb. We know this story is a tragedy. So it’s very affecting when this remembered dinner collapses into laughter over the father’s over-salted fish.

“Really, Father, what’s come over you,” Yasuko laughed, covering her mouth with a hand.

We washed and settled down to the supper Kinoshita-San had prepared for us. I had taken but two or three mouthfuls when I noticed Yasuko looking over to me. Then I saw her father looking suspiciously from one face to the other. Yasuko burst into laughter, again covering her mouth with a hand. The fish had been salted so much it was quite impossible to eat. Although I did not mean to be discourteous, I too began to laugh. Kinoshita-San watched us both, then laid down his chop-sticks.

It’s very simple writing, but the attention to detail, the gestures – it all makes you feel like you’re in the room. They want so badly for life to be normal. It is not. There is too much salt. They laugh. It’s just outstanding writing. I’m not sure what else to say.

And that’s quite a trick on Ishiguro’s part.

The selection:

“Oh don’t misunderstand me, I’m very fond of Nakamura.” He laughed again, but this time a little awkwardly.

“But he will leave you with solitude,” I said quietly.

He smiled once more and bowed a little. “Old men shouldn’t get selfish. I pray with all my heart he’ll return safely.”

“And I will too.”

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