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When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
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When We Were Orphans (2000)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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English (92)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (97)
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Kazuo Ishiguro’s enigmatic novel, When We Were Orphans, is as complex and baffling a work of fiction as I have ever encountered. Christopher Banks, our narrator, is not so much an unreliable narrator as a naive narrator who believes in the internal world he has created and acts upon it as if it were truth. Through so much of the novel I kept asking myself why he could not see the illogical conclusions he was drawing, but of course that is what this novel is about, his inability to leave his childhood behind him and his biased view of the events that lead up to the loss of his parents.

Christopher Banks is a detective, but this is not a detective story. There is a mystery to be solved, but solving the mystery is not the focus of this tale. In fact, Banks is a detective primarily because he feels himself tied to the events of his childhood that he carries around with him like an albatross. The only way he will ever be free to live his adult life is to solve the puzzle that surrounds the disappearance of first his father and then his mother. It is the mental workings of this character that are paramount, and you must be careful here because Banks sees mainly what he wishes to see, sometimes in complete opposition to what the facts appear to reveal.

Ishiguro does not entice you to follow Banks on his journey through his life, he does not lure you into the underbelly of Shanghai, he drags you along, sometimes kicking and screaming that there is something just not right about this story. I enjoyed trying to pick the truth out from among the obvious miscues and while I never felt anything akin to affection for Banks, I did sympathize with his situation and understand his desire to reconcile his childhood memories with what had truly occurred.

I suppose what I really took away from this story was that memories are not truths. The past cannot be reconstructed and no matter how much we might like to alter it, we never can. What has happened, even to ourselves, might not be in reality what happened at all, and spending the present on chasing the past might cost you the future.

...for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.

Perhaps we are all chasing the shadows of vanished parents. Perhaps we are all struggling to discover who we are, separate from them, standing alone. I had a discussion with my older sister once about an event in our childhood. There were only three years separating us and both of us were present for this event and witnessed it ourselves, but our memories of it were so dissimilar as to be diametrically opposed. We can never go back there and see who was right, and maybe we both were, because what is true for one is not always what is true for another.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
I loved Remains of the Day and went to the local second-hand book shop to find Never Let Me Go. It wasn't available, so I came away with this one instead. It starts well: Christopher lives in an ex-pat community in Shanghai and is best friends with a Japanese boy living next door. Christoper's parents disappear within a few days of each other, and he grows up to become a famous, accomplished detective. Now, nearly 20 years later, he returns to Shanghai to solve the disappearance of his parents. However, upon his return, the story becomes so wildly implausible! Perhaps Mr. Ishiguro was attempting to write comedy, but that doesn't mesh with the beginning or ending of the book. So, it really didn't work for me. ( )
  LynnB | May 18, 2017 |
I was surprised at how easily I became absorbed in this narrative. Christopher Banks is orphaned in Shanghai and transported back to England with his Aunt. He becomes a detective and resolves to solve the mystery of his parents disappearance. He returns to Shanghai and there the book develops a sense of unreality.
Nobody writes as well of the pomposity of the English as this author. What comes through clearly is the English arrogance and naivety at their involvement in these foreign countries. ( )
  HelenBaker | Apr 23, 2017 |
One of the things to be aware of when reading an Ishiguro novel is that you need patience. You don't get to find out what it's all about until you have read the bulk of it. On the surface it seems to be a simple narrative on the the life of one Mr. Banks, his childhood in Shanghai in the early 20th century, and his compulsion to become a detective. However, similar to 'The Remains of the Day' it becomes apparent that the assured Mr.Banks may be living in a dream world, where the truth is rather more distasteful. Still, he has his mission, and he does his best, and in the end you can't help but feel for him. Ishiguro's characters are never perfect but they are above all very human. ( )
  Estramir | Jan 26, 2017 |
Ishiguro is an inimitable stylist, somehow conversational and laconic at once. I find his narrative style seductive, and liked this book quite a bit, but not nearly as much as _The Remains of the Day_ or _Never Me Let Go_. In the end, I thought Christopher Banks's discoveries about his childhood misperceptions were both too melodramatic and anticlimactic simultaneously. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
When We Were Orphans may well be Ishiguro's most capacious book so far, in part because it stitches together his almost microscopic examination of self-delusion, as it plays out in lost men, with a much larger, often metaphorical look at complacency on a national scale.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Pico Iyer (pay site) (Oct 5, 2000)
 
Das neue Buch ist eine Überraschung. Denn es kommt so ganz anders daher, es tut so, als werde hier einmal Handfestes geboten, ein Kriminalfall! Ein Kind verliert seine Eltern. Ein schreckliches Familiendrama. Eine historische Erzählung, die sich im China der Opiumkriege entfaltet, Kolonialismus, Bandenkrieg, es birgt, natürlich, auch die Geschichte einer vergeblichen Liebe, und es gehört zum Abenteuerlichen dieser Lektüre, dass wir alle paar Seiten der Illusion erliegen, nun aber endlich zu erahnen, worauf wir uns hier einzulassen haben. Ahnungen, die uns mit dem Wenden einer Seite weggeschlagen werden, was die Gedanken nicht unangenehm verwirrt, so wie wenn die Achterbahn abrupt die Richtung wechselt und es uns herumschleudert und wir die Gravidität der Gehirnmasse kribbelnd spüren. Kein Wunder, es ist die Lebensgeschichte eines Verrückten.
 
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It was the summer of 1923, the summer I came down from Cambridge, when despite my aunt's wishes that I return to Shropshire, I decided my future lay in the capital and took up a small flat at Number 14b Bedford Gardens in Kensington.
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Book description
Privatdetektiven Christopher Banks har opklaret talrige sager i det londonske society. Men der er stadig en sag han ikke har kunnet løse. Under sin opvækst i Shanghai forsvandt hans forældre sporløst. Nu, i slutningen af 1930erne på kanten af 2. verdenskrig, indser Banks at han må tilbage til Østen

The novel is about a British man named Christopher Banks who used to live in the Shanghai of colonial China in the early 1900s, but when his father, an opium businessman, and his mother disappear within an interval of a few weeks, Christopher is sent away to live with his aunt in Britain. Christopher vows to become a detective in order to solve the case of his parents' disappearance, and he achieves this goal through ruthless determination. His fame as a private investigator soon spreads, and in the late 1930s he returns to China to solve the most important case of his life. The impression is given that if he solves this case, a world catastrophe will be averted but it is not apparent how. As Christopher pursues his investigation, the boundaries between fact and fantasy begin to evaporate.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375724400, Paperback)

When 9-year-old Christopher Banks's father--a British businessman involved in the opium trade--disappears from the family home in Shanghai, the boy and his friend Akira play at being detectives: "Until in the end, after the chases, fist-fights and gun-battles around the warren-like alleys of the Chinese districts, whatever our variations and elaborations, our narratives would always conclude with a magnificent ceremony held in Jessfield Park, a ceremony that would see us, one after another, step out onto a specially erected stage ... to greet the vast cheering crowds."

But Christopher's mother also disappears, and he is sent to live in England, where he grows up in the years between the world wars to become, he claims, a famous detective. His family's fate continues to haunt him, however, and he sifts through his memories to try to make sense of his loss. Finally, in the late 1930s, he returns to Shanghai to solve the most important case of his life. But as Christopher pursues his investigation, the boundaries between fact and fantasy begin to evaporate. Is the Japanese soldier he meets really Akira? Are his parents really being held in a house in the Chinese district? And who is Mr. Grayson, the British official who seems to be planning an important celebration? "My first question, sir, before anything else, is if you're happy with the choice of Jessfield Park for the ceremony? We will, you see, require substantial space."

In When We Were Orphans Kazuo Ishiguro uses the conventions of crime fiction to create a moving portrait of a troubled mind, and of a man who cannot escape the long shadows cast by childhood trauma. Sherlock Holmes needed only fragments--a muddy shoe, cigarette ash on a sleeve--to make his deductions, but all Christopher has are fading recollections of long-ago events, and for him the truth is much harder to grasp. Ishiguro writes in the first person, but from the beginning there are cracks in Christopher's carefully restrained prose, suggestions that his version of the world may not be the most reliable. Faced with such a narrator, the reader is forced to become a detective too, chasing crumbs of truth through the labyrinth of Christopher's memory.

Ishiguro has never been one for verbal pyrotechnics, but the unruffled surface of this haunting novel only adds to its emotional power. When We Were Orphans is an extraordinary feat of sustained, perfectly controlled imagination, and in Christopher Banks the author has created one of his most memorable characters. --Simon Leake

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:35 -0400)

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Christopher Banks, an English boy who was orphaned after his parents disappeared in Shanghai under suspicious circumstances, returns to Shanghai twenty years later in the hopes of learning what really happened to his parents.

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