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Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro: Book Review

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.” 

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The story of how I discovered and decided to buy the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go, is actually quite funny – me and my mum were watching Pointless over dinner, we love trying to answer the questions on it and seeing if we’d do well if we were on the show. It’s actually a typical dinnertime thing that happens that I look forward to because obviously I love bonding with my mum. But this one episode the category was books shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and this book came up and my mum asked if I had heard of it because Ishiguro’s books were meant to be highly spoken of and from there I looked up the summary on it and added it to my to read list! I’ll say this though, the blurb only hints so little of how many interesting themes and the amazing story in this novel.

Photo 10-11-2017, 03 28 42.jpgKazuo Ishiguro is a Nobel-Prize winning novelist, short story writer and screenwriter. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan but him and his family moved to Guildford, Surrey when Ishiguro was the age of 5. Interestingly enough, Ishiguro’s first novel was the thesis he wrote in his Master of Arts in Creative Writing – I love finding these kind of things out about authors/novelists because it gives me inspiration and hope almost to continue with my own writing and trying to improve. This is my first Ishiguro novel to read but after finishing Never Let Me Go, I would love to read some of his other novels. His writing flows beautifully and the tones and emotions he puts into scenes are beautifully executed.

(Reading warning: Spoilers from here on out)

Never Let Me Go follows the reminiscing of Kathy H. She is a thirty-one year old carer and has had this job for almost twelve years. She talks about her time at a place called Hailsham which is pretty much a boarding school that her and many other students, which all have something in common, attend. Throughout the book she talks about childhood memories like watching other students prank a boy named Tommy, the different guardians (pretty much teachers) they have, how they can attend exchanges and sales to pick up secondhand items and art for their collections and the most peculiar experience of them all – how a mysterious woman they all call ‘Madame’ visits every so often to look at different kind of art the students create and take the art away.

Nostalgia and memories are big themes in Never Let Me Go, as the story is made up of a lot of memories Kathy has of Hailsham, her best friend Ruth, a boy named Tommy and when they move into cottages after Hailsham. However during their time at Hailsham, the students discover something about themselves and their future which separates them from any usual child – A) they’re clones and B) they’re destined to give away their vital organs until ‘completion'(death) before they even hit middle age.

“None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you are created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided.” 

What is so interesting about this twist to me, is that it wasn’t an ending twist, it wasn’t like a massive emotional dagger to stick in the characters, and in fact Kathy isn’t even shocked by it. It comes at the end of part 1 and I did almost find myself going ‘how could they keep this from them?’ and maybe expecting the rest of the story to be Kathy, Tommy and Ruth escaping from their fate. Although, that does almost happen, eventually in the story, the main three hear a rumour that finding Madame and proving two clones are in true love can defer becoming a donor and they do go on a journey to try to discover this – the ending is very bittersweet and does end with the accepted fate for Ruth and Tommy. Kathy is still alive at the end of the story but we are safe to assume she will go on to become a donor like her past friends and students.

After I finished the book, a lot of the afterthoughts and what this story means to me and how interesting the themes didn’t actually hit me until an hour after. Like I said, nostalgia and memories are a big theme in it and I think what’s really educational and inspiring about Ishiguro’s story is that the difference between Ruth and Kathy is Kathy holds onto her memories, the quote at the beginning of my review is actually said by Kathy, she doesn’t ever try to deny her past or even mistakes she’s made or arguments she’s gotten into compared to her best friend Ruth who when they move on from Hailsham has moments of possibly forgetting memories of Hailsham and pretending she’s past of it, she even confesses to Kathy that she asked the caretaker of the cottages they live in after Hailsham to take away her old stuff from school. I resonated massively with Kathy because I hoard so much stuff from growing up, I keep diaries, I keep journals, I have a notebook where I try to write down every positive memory or thing that happens, I have a box in my room that I put stuff that reminds me of happy times (old tickets, photos etc.), I keep my old teddies from childhood, I keep all my old schoolbooks etc. etc., I’m obsessed with keeping memories close to me and keeping as much as I can in my thoughts. Kathy and Ruth’s lives are so much shorter and planned out than mine and because of Kathy keeping all these memories, look at the story it provided – I think it just shows how important memories and nostalgia is and how bittersweet it can be.

The other theme and afterthought that stuck with me is the themes of time and morality – a quote that actually comes from the movie adaption of the book really spoke to me too: ‘We All Complete.’. It basically sticks with me in the way the saying ‘memento mori’ sits with me – our time on earth is timed and not limitless, we need to appreciate the time we have on earth and appreciate the memories we make. Why didn’t Kathy, Ruth and Tommy run from their fates? Because it’s what they were taught since childhood, although subliminally, and they know nothing else – much like us humans. We know nothing else than to live our lives out as long as possible, stay healthy and try to follow our dreams.

I just love that this story haunted me even after reading it, it kept me thinking and bringing up the story to my mum to get my thoughts on it out – this book would be so good for book clubs because there’s so much you can discuss. It makes you think so much about mortality and a different view on growing up although Kathy’s memories are not different and unique because of her being a clone – they are so human and she has stories that a lot of people could resonate with. I really recommend picking up the book, it was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize for a reason!

You can purchase ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro for £6.99 on Waterstones. UNIDAYs also do a 10% student discount (online only).

Thank you for reading,

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Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi: Book Review

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In June this year, I bought and downloaded ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi onto my tablet, and I finally completed it today and it was such a different book from the ones I normally read and very relevant for the UK’s Black History Month that I wanted to talk about it. It is an amazing piece of literature definitely deserving a review. 

Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanaian-American novelist and Homegoing is her debut novel. At only 26 she has already won awards for this novel and of course, they are well deserved. According to her Wikipedia, Homegoing was inspired by a trip to her home country of Ghana, that she had not visited since being an infant. Homegoing is a phrase used for African-American funerals and is a big part of the culture and history. Back in the days of the slave trade, slaves believed death meant their soul would ‘go home’ and return to their native place in Africa. Of course, as the novel starts in the 18th century and explores the theme of slavery so raw and bluntly, I can see why Gyasi used this as a title. Of course, when I started reading I knew deep down this book was going to be more educational to me than it would ever be empathetic because this is a book of black history and the suffering, discrimination and such African people went through from 18th century onwards. I think it is a good idea for white people to read stories like this as it’s stories that are true and need to be told. Not forgotten. So many people went through so many things to even get to where we are today and in recent stories such as the rise of Black Lives Matters, the obvious problem of racism in many industries and shootings of black youth by police – it’s very important to remember we’ve still got a long way to go in learning from our ancestor’s discrimination and cruelty.


Admittedly I was terrible with keeping up on my reading on the first few chapters of Homegoing but I don’t put that down to the writing or topic at all. I’m very bad for procrastinating reading. But recently I picked up Homegoing again and got sucked back in and even between University classes or on the tram home I have found myself wishing I had more time to ‘just finish this chapter’ or ‘find out who the next character is’. Each character was so different but I loved how you could trace back the relatives and descendants to the original characters of Effia and Esi. Family/ancestors are an important theme in this story. It also explores two regions of Ghana, the Ashanti people and the Fante. From reading this I am so in love and amazed by Gyasi’s knowledge and research of her culture and the past of Ghana. Even at the end of the book I looked at her list of references and was incredibly impressed. The passion to spread the knowledge and history of Ghana is so amazing and Gyasi is an incredible author and writes each character so beautifully and makes each of their stories so unique, that you find yourself glued to the book intrigued.

Gyasi does not spare anything writing the honest past of these characters and how some of them lived through well-known history including the African Slave Trade, the Plantation era, segregation in the US, riots, war on drugs etc., it left me feeling like I had gotten a more honest and powerful insight to how people of colour experienced these times. A quote that stood out to me massively about half way through the book was:

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?, Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.” 

This stood out because I think it’s a quote and question to ask yourself even now. What’s in the history books in school in the US isn’t always correct. Things are missed out, people are missed out. Think of the Ferguson riots and many other riots after innocent black youth had been killed after. Thankfully on Twitter, people are lot more quick to notice the anomalies, but there was so many call outs for ‘trustworthy’ media ignoring important facts or honest stories from black witnesses. Media would paint the white policeman as a victim and the barely even adolescent black child as not. In this day and age, racism is systematic and history is changed to suit those who are in charge.


As I prepared to write this review, I actually scanned over other people’s reviews and one talked about how most ‘the past of slavery’ centered books tend to just be there to shock and upset. I don’t really agree and I definitely think Homegoing is different from that. It doesn’t give you a bird’s eye view, it puts you right there in the character’s shoes. It takes you through generations to see how, even though the African slave trade is in the past, things still effect people of colour today. There is still lasting effects and that we shouldn’t ever forget about it. It’s not something we can brush under a rug or let a white leader convince us that it’s all ‘over and done with’.

I wanted to make this a spoiler-free review but I’ll mention briefly, the ending characters who close the book for me were based in the 21st century, I’m guessing around 2001. The final female character, Marjorie, takes our final male character Marcus back to Ghana where she grew up, more specifically, the Cape Coast. The story itself starts with fire and fire is actually a prominent theme throughout the story, however as the two characters stand on the beach in the sun there is this one paragraph:

She walked to where he stood, where the fire met the water. He took her hand and they both looked out into the abyss of it. The fear that Marcus had felt inside the castle was still there, but he knew it was like the fire, a wild thing that could still be controlled, contained.”

I thought this was such an amazing little scene that I actually wrote it down. I loved the contrasting symbolism of starting with a fire and ending with water. I can never spot or decipher exactly what this symbolism could have meant to the author but I feel it was to maybe be a metaphor for the character’s futures. The vast, big sea on the coast of Ghana, the character’s ancestors homes – where it all started. To show despite all of the anger, distress, brutality, violence and suffering the characters go through during the book, they are still there. They are still strong and part of the Earth. Their ancestries are important stories to the Earth and despite how horrible the world can be, people will keep fighting. The ocean scene is almost like a healing scene compared to the rest of the book, although it is clear you are meant to understand that racism and discrimination is still rampant, the two characters are given a moment of peace and clarity, of happiness.

I think this is definitely a novel to pick up this year and read as it is so educational and relevant even now. The cover art I have seen for it is also beautifully illustrated and it’s just such a raw, enthralling book that I might consider getting a physical copy for myself to read again in the future.

Thank you for reading, Homegoing is currently available here on Amazon UK

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