Wednesday, October 19, 2005

When We Were Orphans (by Kazuo Ishiguro)

I found this one at a rummage sale for a dollar, and since Remains of the Day grew on me so much, I figured I should try one of his other books. This one has another Stevens-like unreliable narrator. There's clearly something off about him, and it's sometimes a little frustrating being inside his mind. I don't think the reader is quite allowed to get at the truth enough. He's supposedly a "great detective" but there's no indication of why. Maybe the thing with his parents is a blind spot (why on earth would he not consider that they might be dead, or long gone, after twenty years) but there's no indication of his "detective" ability anywhere in the book, except that people talk to and about him as if he's Sherlock Holmes--is he deluding himself entirely, or do these people really expect something out of him?

The backdrop of this book is the Chinese-Japanese war in the '30s and the opium trade in China, which is compelling. The narrator is an Englishman who grows up in Shanghai, with a friend named Akira, a loose end at the end of the book. The resolution of the plot (although depending on a number of unlikely coincidences) was kind of interesting. But I don't know, the book was weird. It was hard to extract some understanding of "reality" from the narrator, and it seems a little derivative of Remains of the Day in terms of the main character.

Man, I don't know. I guess the bottom line is that while I enjoyed reading this book, I expected to be less confused after I'd finished reading it.


Blogger Giova said...

Have you read "An Artist of the Floating World" by Ishiguro? That's the one that started me as an Ishiguro fan (cemented of course by Remains). Again the main character is an old man who has succesfully deluded himself (though not the reader)and is convinced that he has made the right decisions in his life. The backdrop is post-war Japan; its reconstruction and sudden swing from patriotism to western adoration.
Like Remains, it is beautifully written, insightful and succint.
Man, Ishiguro should have been a psychologist, he understands human nature so well.
I haven't read WWW Orphans but it's on my list. I recently read Never Let Me Go and although it was enjoyable and emotionally evocative I thought the whole sci-fi backdrop had holes and took away from the believability of the story. What can I say, I'm a scientist.
I enjoy your website! It's a source of inspiration for my bookclub suggestions sometimes.

12:28 PM  
Blogger K said...

Can I put in a vote for "Artist" as well? It's very subtle, and the Japanese background is well-evoked. (I've only read "Remains of the Day" apart from that.)

2:01 AM  

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