Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Remains of the Day

I originally read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day for a class in college. It's about an English butler. It's definitely one of my top 5 favorite novels. But not everyone in the class liked it so.

"I cannot believe that anybody could be so without ambition," said the student from Africa. To this day, I remain unsure to what extent he was talking about the butler, and to what extent the novelist.

"In the village where I come from, this could not happen," he continued. "I come from a village where the people all take care of each other. In the village where I come from, we would not let this happen to anybody. The people are very loving and care about each other like a family. It is unbelievable to me. I cannot believe that anybody could be so without ambition."

Was he saying that the book was objectionable, or that Western civilization was? It wasn't clear to me. When the professor tried to ask him for clarification, he would not elaborate but merely repeated his statements about his village and about ambition. None of our other classmates had any response, so we just moved on while he wore a smug grin, arms crossed, as though he had made some undefeatable point.

I didn't like it. Whatever he had meant to say, I took it as an assault on my culture, on my hemisphere, on my very person.

Seated directly behind this native of Kokovoko or Rokovoko or wherever, I wanted to give him a tap on the shoulder and say to him, "Dude, I live in a house." Surely that would have brought him low and made him think twice before boasting about his savage tribe again.

Granted, it's actually my parents' house . . . .

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

Yeah, you should have told him a thing or two about the white man's burden. That would have shut him up.