What is the meaning of life? Why do we live? If someday we are meant to die, then, what are we supposed to live for? These questions were swirling in my head right after I closed the last page of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. This novel is a dystopian story about human cloning, where the cloned kids are brought up nicely only to donate their organs for sick people when they have grown up. In this novel Ishiguro is criticizing how, in the era of technology fast advances, human gets bolder in imitating God, by cloning His masterpiece: human beings. But on the other hand, he also brings us to reflect our own humanity, of the true value and meaning of being a human.
This novel is told from the first point of view of Kathy H., one of the cloned kids, when she is 31. All the cloned characters do not have family name, only a character following their first names. Kathy reflects her world and her life as a cloned kid, starting from (and especially about) her happy years in Hailsham, an English boarding school specially designed for the cloning project. Hailsham is the whole world for the cloned kids. They grow up, receive fine education, and socialize with their kinds, all inside Hailsham. Although never been introduced to the outside world, they are brought up as normal as possible like any children on the outside world.
The central figures of this novel are Kathy—a kind and principled girl, Ruth—Kathy’s best friend; a bossy girl, and Tommy—a hot-tempered boy who is often bullied by other students. Kathy is the only one who stands for him while he is bullied, and they become close friends. However, it is Ruth who later on become Tommy’s girlfriend. From the very beginning, they know—or rather have instinct—that they are not normal. Here and there lay mysteries, hinted by the teachers (whom they called ‘guardians’). They are encouraged to create as much and as best art works as possible, and the best ones would be picked by a mysterious woman they called ‘Madame’. Another mystery….
On their 16 years of age, they are ‘graduated’ Hailsham, and move to a closed resident called ‘The Cottages’, where they are introduced to the outside world. They are encouraged to live as normal people, having love and sexual relationship—even though they could not have children, and having a career as nurses—nursing the donors to get through every donation. However they also know that these are only formal preparations before entering life as donors—their main purpose of life (the ‘completion’). Whenever they are ready, they can register themselves as donors, and they would perform ‘donation’ after donation, until the process takes their life eventually. It is in her career as nurse, just before she decides to be a donor, that Kathy reflects her life and tells us the story.
I remember when I was reading Remains of the Day, I was amazed by Ishiguro’s narrative style. It was rather slow-paced, but very thoughtful and deep. And the same aspect comes again in Never Let Me Go. Several of my friends said that in their first attempt, they were stuck at the middle of the book, could not make it to the end. I was worried at fist that this would be slower than Remain s of the Day. However, as I started first chapter, I just knew that I was going to like it. It is even little smoother than Remains, and the moral and humanity theme make it more intense. Now I am grateful, I have swapped one of my books (I forget which one) with this book!
In the end, I came to two reflections: First, that human cloning is totally immoral. Only God can create human, and as creations, we cannot even imagine to be equal with our Creator. Ironically, my second reflection came from thinking about the human-cloning; from the lives of Kathy, Ruth, Tommy, and their kind. Even they are all the same kind (human-cloning), they have different opinion of their lives. My favorite here is Kathy. I think Kathy is the most positive of her friends. Instead of worrying her grim future and—like her friends—registering to be donor as soon as possible to end it; or—like Ruth—trying to hide the fact and pretend to be innocent until it’s time to ‘complete’ her life, Kathy accepts the nature of her fate and enjoys her works as a nurse. In short, she takes what life gives her, and does her best to fill it until it’s time for her to ‘complete’ it.
Then I had my reflection….isn’t Kathy’s life quite similar to us? I mean, besides our different origins, we all know that someday we would also ‘complete’ our life when we die. We do have freewill—unlike the cloned—but basically we are all mortal, and cannot change that. If the cloned—and the guardians—think their life is kind of doomed, poor, useless; that they were brought up only to donate their organs and die, how do WE see our lives? Is life really worth living, if we know for certain that we are going to die? If the cloned had lived only for donating their organs, what are WE living for? Through Kathy, I was reminded of how grateful I am to be God’s child; to be His special creation, and to have been living as myself. If Kathy the cloned can move on and make the best of her life, confound us if we waste ours that are so precious!
Thank you Ishiguro for writing this novel; I am really grateful to have decided to read this book. Please, therefore, accept my four stars for Never Let Me Go.
I read Indonesian translation from Gramedia Pustaka Utama
This book is counted as: