I still read the hard copies of books and not ebooks and have a habit of underlining the text I like and can later use as a quote somewhere but in this book I couldn’t find anything worth underling. The story in Ishiguro’s 5th novel (published in 2000) is set in London and Shanghai in early 1900s and both London and Shanghai are cities interesting enough to add color to any story especially during the said era whereby the British and later the warlords are trying to control China through opium trade and later the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, but somehow the description of the cities in this book (particularly Shanghai where only the International Settlement is described) fails to add color, perhaps because Ishiguro had never visited Shanghai before completing this book.
The plot tries to combine the excitement of a detective novel with the psychological interest of first-person narration that characterizes most of Ishiguro’s works. Christopher Banks is an unreliable narrator with a faulty memory is, a fact easily gleaned from the discrepancy between his own reflections and the conflicting testimony of others. The narrative offers the reader a plurality of meanings and interpretations while remaining uncommitted and also oscillates between real and imaginary, so that the reader can never be sure whether an incident is located in the real (fictive) world or in Banks’ imagination.
Ishiguro beautifully conveys that the need to try to put right the inevitable failures of childhood is an unavoidable compulsion that forces Banks to pursue this chimera of setting things right in the past at the expense of a more satisfying form of current adult life. Ishiguro initially builds upon the illusion of Banks’ childhood and then slowly shatters it against stark reality. While building upon the illusion, Ishiguro goes to the ridiculous extent of even officers like Mr Grayson also supporting the notion of Mr. Banks rescuing his parents to the extent that he asks where they would live after his parents have been discovered, how he would like to welcome them back and even the family occupying the house he had lived in as a child has been asked to vacate the house for his family although they own that place. However, contrary to readers’ expectations set in by Ishiguro, the mystery unfolds in a weird confession by Uncle Pierre in the penultimate chapter.
Reading this book somehow gave me an eerie feeling that there is more to it than meets the eye but I couldn’t quite point your fingers as to what. For instance the proliferation of orphans in the book with all lead characters (Christopher, Sarah and Jennifer) portrayed as orphans implies something but don’t understand exactly what. Perhaps emphasizes on the death and destruction produced by imperialism that inevitably left plethora of children orphaned.
- Book thoughts: “When We Were Orphans” by Kazuo Ishiguro (ingridsykora.wordpress.com)