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An Artist of the Floating World (1986)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,354862,994 (3.82)357
It is 1948. Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War II, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated painter Masuji Ono fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson, and his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet Iantern-lit bars. His should be a tranquil retirement. But as his memories continually return to the past - to a life and a career deeply touched by the rise of Japanese militarism - a dark shadow begins to grow over his serenity.… (more)
  1. 50
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (bibliobibuli, browner56)
    browner56: The consequences of misguided devotion treated from both the British and Japanese perspectives.
  2. 20
    A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro (bibliobibuli)
  3. 10
    The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (Booksloth)
  4. 10
    The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (bibliobibuli)
    bibliobibuli: The Gift of Rain was greatly influenced by this book.
  5. 00
    American Pastoral by Philip Roth (ateolf)
  6. 01
    The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (ateolf)

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» See also 357 mentions

English (79)  Spanish (2)  Greek (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (85)
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
I'm at pain to ask how Ishiguro ever got a Noble prize for literature?. If the powers that be wanted to give a Japanese writer the prize , they should have looked no further than Haruki Murakami. In fact Ishiguro does't even see himself as Japanese but British.

Maybe i could not follow the plot, because I was "reading" the audio version where it was difficult to distinguish the various characters, but I found this work tedious and boring. ( )
  bergs47 | Oct 5, 2021 |
Ono's reflections - like our own ruminations - swing from self-congratulatory to increasingly self-critical, an arc made more profound against the backdrop of war and ultimate cultural upheaval. Ishiguro walks us patiently through both the ruins and the renaissance. ( )
  Lemeritus | May 18, 2021 |
Someone wrote about this novel:

"Page after page of mind numbing detail”…...except that it is not.

After years of reading various translations of Japanese books one that that becomes not only obvious but central to everything is that Japanese society is highly stratified and ritualistic. So what appears to be page after page of mind numbing detail is in reality the lines that connects one thing or person to another and it also denotes the position or value of that thing or person to the other. Each single detail has a significance greater than its mass to the Japanese but seems trivial to us

Like a maze of interconnected lines intersecting at angles and on planes which if they could be seen in 3D would show the relationships and relative positions of each of the characters. I particularly liked one line that pretty much summed up just how different their culture is to ours. it goes like this when one person is describing the painting style of his teacher:

“And Mori-san made extensive use of the traditional device of of expressing emotion through the textiles which the woman holds or wears rather than the expression on her face.”

Different enough? Trying to understand simple things in another culture is difficult enough so how can we begin to approach the subtleties of another culture when we may not even begin to perceive anything in the first place. I recently read someone saying (of a different novel):

"I can say this story definitely unfolds in a very Japanese style. Methodical, systematic, carefully, calmly, quietly...these are all words that come to mind.”

or this:

"I am referring to the sense of order and duty that pervades Japanese culture."

Personally I find that time gets blurred both in and out of the novel, a bit like you are reading in another space entirely and the matter at hand is a bit like peeling onions, as it becomes clearer so it becomes less substantial. Such are most Japanese stories.

As to the story itself, it is about the changes that happened to Japanese society after the war and how one man (the artist) first of all finds the changes then finds his way through those changes. A sad yet soft tale. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
I wanted so much to like this book better than I did. I appreciated the artistry of his prose and the difficulty of the story, a Japanese artist dealing with his family and feelings and views in the years just after World War II. Especially because it is so difficult to tell a first-person narration through a repressed character. And I did love the prose and the description was beautiful, but I do think that each book you read tells you more about what sort of reader you are and I realize, more and more, that I am a great lover of a compelling voice. ( )
  Katester123 | Sep 17, 2020 |
Ishiguro really loves to write about 'unspeakable secrets'. The actual 'sin' the artist committed is left unclear for very long in the book. His characters are flawed and interesting, and relations between the family members are so dynamic.
There's a melancholy in the memories, and you can really imagine yourself in the streets of the story. ( )
  stormnyk | Aug 6, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
Ishiguro describes the genesis of his second novel by referring to his first: “There was a subplot in A Pale View of Hills about an old teacher who has to rethink the values on which he’s built his life. I said to myself, I would like to write a full-blown novel about a man in this situation – in this case, an artist whose career becomes contaminated because he happens to live at a certain time.” ... Ishiguro’s fiction has certainly mined the complexities involved in the unreliable, first-person narrator. An Artist of the Floating World is perhaps the supreme example of his art. It is, at face value, deeply Japanese, but many of its themes – secrecy, regret, discretion, hypocrisy and loss – are also to be found in the 20th-century English novel.
“An Artist of the Floating World” is a sensitive examination of the turmoil in postwar Japan, a time when certainties were overturned, gender politics shifted, the hierarchy of the generations seemed to topple and even the geography of cities changed. All this is made more poignant when seen through the eyes of a man who is rejected by the future and who chooses to reject his own past.
In the second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, the teacher of discredited values is the narrator and main character. Mr. Ono is a retired painter and art master, and as in A Pale View of Hills, the story bobs about between reminiscences of different periods of the hero's life. Not that Mr. Ono is a hero: in fact, he is the least admirable and sympathetic of Ishiguro's chief characters, an opportunist and timeserver, adapting his views and even his artistic style to the party in power. So it comes that in the Thirties he deserts his first, westernizing master of painting for the strict, old-fashioned style and patriotic content of the imperialist, propaganda art.
It is not unusual to find new novels by good writers, novels with precise wording, witty phrases, solid characterizations, scenes that engage. Good writers abound - good novelists are very rare. Kazuo Ishiguro is that rarity. His second novel, ''An Artist of the Floating World,'' is the kind that stretches the reader's awareness, teaching him to read more perceptively.
The year 1945, like 1830 and 1914, now seems a natural watershed – above all in countries which experienced national defeat, social upheaval and military occupation. An Artist of the Floating World, a beautiful and haunting novel by the author of A Pale View of the Hills, consists of the rambling reminiscences of a retired painter set down at various dates in the Japan of the late Forties. Americanisation is in full swing, national pride has been humbled, and the horror of the bombed cities and the loss of life is beginning to be counted. The young soldiers who came back from the war are turning into loyal corporation men, eager to forget the Imperial past and to dedicate the remainder of their lives to resurgent capitalism. Ishiguro’s narrator, Masuji Ono, has lost his wife and son but lives on with two daughters, one of whom is married. Were it not for his anxieties over his second daughter’s marriage negotiations, Ono could be left to subside into the indolence of old age. As it is, ‘certain precautionary steps’ must be taken against the investigations to be pursued, as a matter of course, by his prospective son-in-law. The past has its guilty secrets which Ono must slowly and reluctantly bring back to consciousness.

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ishiguro, Kazuoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Broek, C.A.G. van denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading up from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as ‘the Bridge of Hesitation’, you will not have to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two gingko trees.
If one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is a consolation—indeed, a deep satisfaction—to be gained from this observation when looking back over one’s life. (Masuji Ono)
And yet we allow our people to grow more and more desperate, our little children die of malnutrition. Meanwhile, the businessmen get richer and the politicians forever make excuses and chatter. Can you imagine any of the Western powers allowing such a situation? (Matsuda)
It is not necessary that artists always occupy a decadent and enclosed world. My conscience, Sensei, tells me I cannot remain forever an artist of the floating world.’
'...our contribution was always marginal. No one cares now what the likes of you and me once did. They look at us and see only two old men with their sticks.’ He smiled at me, then went on feeding the fish. ‘We’re the only ones who care now. The likes of you and me, Ono, when we look back over our lives and see they were flawed, we’re the only ones who care now.’
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It is 1948. Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War II, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated painter Masuji Ono fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson, and his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet Iantern-lit bars. His should be a tranquil retirement. But as his memories continually return to the past - to a life and a career deeply touched by the rise of Japanese militarism - a dark shadow begins to grow over his serenity.

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Set in post-World War II Japan, the novel is narrated by Masuji Ono, an aging painter, who looks back on his life and how he has lived it. He notices how his once great reputation has faltered since the war and how attitudes towards him and his paintings have changed. The chief conflict deals with Ono's need to accept responsibility for his past actions. The novel attempts to ask and answer the question: what is man's role in a rapidly changing environment?
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