When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans

eBook - 2015
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British writer Kazuo Ishiguro won the 1989 Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day, which sold over a million copies in English alone and was the basis of a film starring Anthony Hopkins. Now When We Were Orphans, his extraordinary fifth novel, has been called "his fullest achievement yet" (The New York Times Book Review) and placed him again on the Booker shortlist. A complex, intelligent, subtle and restrained psychological novel built along the lines of a detective story, it confirms Ishiguro as one of the most important writers in English today. London's Sunday Times said: "You seldom read a novel that so convinces you it is extending the possibilities of fiction."

The novel takes us to Shanghai in the late 1930s, with English detective Christopher Banks bent on solving the mystery that has plagued him all his life: the disappearance of his parents when he was eight. By his own account, he is now a celebrated gentleman sleuth, the toast of London society. But as we learn, he is also a solitary figure, his career built on an obsession. Believing his parents may still be held captive, he longs to put right as an adult what he was powerless to change as a child, when he played at being Sherlock Holmes -- before both his parents vanished and he was sent to England to be raised by an aunt.

Banks' father was involved in the importation of opium, and solving the mystery means finding that his boyhood was not the innocent, enchanted world he has cherished in memory. The Shanghai he revisits is in the throes of the Sino--Japanese war, an apocalyptic nightmare; he sees the horror of the slums surrounding the international community in "a dreamscape worthy of Borges" (The Independent). "We think that if we can only put something right that went a bit awry, then our lives would be healed and the world would be healed," says Ishiguro of the illusion under which his hero suffers.

It becomes increasingly clear that Banks is not to be trusted as a narrator. The stiff, elegant voice grows more hysterical, his vision more feverish, as he comes closer to the truth. Like Ryder of The Unconsoled, Ishiguro's previous novel, Banks is trapped in his boyhood fantasy, and he follows his obsession at the cost of personal happiness. Other characters appear as projections of his fears and desires. All Ishiguro's novels concern themselves with the past, the consequences of denying it and the unreliability of memory.

It is from Ishiguro's own family history that the novel takes its setting. Though his family is Japanese, Ishiguro's father was born in Shanghai's international community in 1920; his grandfather was sent there to set up a Chinese branch of Toyota, then a textile company. "My father has old pictures of the first Mr. Toyota driving his Rolls-Royce down the Bund." When the Japanese invaded in 1937, the fighting left the international commune a ghetto, and his family moved back to Nagasaki.

When We Were Orphans raises the bar for the literary mystery. Though more complex than much of Ishiguro's earlier work, which has led to mixed reactions, it was published internationally (his work has been published in 28 languages) and was a New York Times bestseller.

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This seemingly straight-forward detective novel turns out to be an introspective look at imagination, memory, and how the mental and emotional landscape of childhood seeps into the present.

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laphampeak
Feb 09, 2018

A very British narration with the main character Christopher Banks whose instrospection and reflection describe the intent of Ishiguro's story. Thus said, "I suppose it was, at least in part, my attempt as an adult to grasp the nature of those forces which as a child I could not have had the chance of comprehending. It was also my intention to prepare my ground for the day I began in earnest my investigations into the whole affair concerning my parents...." The writer takes us from country to country and past to present in a way that, although choppy at times, leads us to an interesting end.

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sailjenk
Jun 12, 2017

Remains of the Day was good, the film better.
His other books I found hugely disappointing.

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1aa
Aug 04, 2016

A awkward book about an awkward man and some key elements of his life. About two thirds of the book is slow, sensitive, and highly introspective, and the last third is odd: suspenseful and the naivety of Banks is crystal clear. The penultimate paragraph is truly great, it could have been written by Willa Cather.

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LoganLib_Central
Nov 26, 2015

Selected for the Logan Central Monday Book Club in 2016. For a full list of 2016 selections, see the Logan Central Monday Book Club list.

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47bullseye
Apr 26, 2015

Thru Chap 8

theorbys Jan 30, 2015

Revisiting many of the themes of Unconsoled, and despite his obvious writing skills, this novel falls flat. I thought Unconsoled was a good 200 pages too long, and that this novel, 200 pages shorter than the Unconsoled, might be just right. But sadly it's a good 100 pages too long.

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vcc
Apr 14, 2014

Another masterpiece from Ishiguro. This time his main character is Christopher Banks, a Shanghai-born man of British desendant, who fashions himself as a Sherlock Holmes to rescue his long-disappeared parents and save the world from war. Banks is the epitome of British colonialism during the opium wars in China, his selective or distorted memory aiding in his denial of the facts.

Reviewed: 12 November 2006

Don27 Sep 01, 2013

A gripping, perceptive wonderful story. Ishiguro takes us seamlessly from Shanghai to England and back again. I felt for the narrator. Ishiguro has an interesting writing style. He keeps us away a little, but that works here. A rewarding read.

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lgrst4
Jul 16, 2012

This was a bookclub read that just didn't hook me. The narrator was unreliable and that was frustrating!

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sky123
Mar 27, 2016

I have become increasingly preoccupied with my memories, a preoccupation encouraged by the discovery that these memories - of my childhood, of my parents - have lately begun to blur. A number of times recently I have found myself struggling to recall something that only two or three years ago I believed was ingrained in my mind forever. I have been obliged to accept, in other words, that with each passing year, my life in Shanghai will grow less distinct, until one day all that will remain will be a few muddled images. p.70

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LazyNeko
Feb 12, 2012

"...And those of us whose duty it is to combat evil, we are... how might I put it? We're like the twine that holds together the slats of a wooden blind. Should we fail to hold strong, then everything will scatter..."

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