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An Artist of the Floating World (1986)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,543943,078 (3.82)1 / 373
" From A to Z, the Penguin Drop Caps series collects 26 unique hardcovers-featuring cover art by Jessica Hische. It all begins with a letter. Fall in love with Penguin Drop Caps, a new series of twenty-six collectible and hardcover editions, each with a type cover showcasing a gorgeously illustrated letter of the alphabet. In a design collaboration between Jessica Hische and Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley, the series features unique cover art by Hische, a superstar in the world of type design and illustration, whose work has appeared everywhere from Tiffany & Co. to Wes Anderson's recent film Moonrise Kingdom to Penguin's own bestsellers Committed and Rules of Civility. With exclusive designs that have never before appeared on Hische's hugely popular Daily Drop Cap blog, the Penguin Drop Caps series launches with six perennial favorites to give as elegant gifts, or to showcase on your own shelves. I is for Ishiguro. Masuji Ono saw misery in his homeland and became unwilling to spend his skills solely in the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he envisioned a strong and powerful nation of the future, and he put his painting to work in the service of the movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Masuji Ono struggles through the spiritual wreckage of that war, his memories of the "floating world" of his youth, full of pleasure and promise, serve as an escape from, a punishment for-and a justification of-his entire life. Drifting without honor in Japan's postwar society, which indicts him for its defeat and reviles him for his aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being. An Artist of the Floating World is a sensual and profoundly convincing portrait of the artist as an aging man. At once a multigenerational tale and a samurai death poem written in English, it is also a saga of the clash of the old and new orders, blending classical and contemporary iconography with compassion and wit"--… (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 373 mentions

English (87)  Spanish (2)  Greek (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (93)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
Set in Japan in 1948-1950, Matsuji Ono is a retired artist who was well-known and respected in his heyday. He is encountering a time of massive change after Japan’s defeat in WWII, where American influence is increasing and those that embraced Japanese nationalism are eschewed. The story tells of his career as an artist, his relationship with his family, and his self-deceptions.

Ono is the narrator of the story and, similar to Remains of the Day, the reader gradually gains a fuller picture of his character, which differs from what Ono presents of himself. Ono tends to avoid conflict and deny the way the world has changed. He longs to return to “the good old days” and still relates to the pre-war social and political milieu. He is concerned with his status and influence, and it will become increasingly apparent that his memories may differ from the facts.

Themes include conflict avoidance, differences in generations, the desire for a meaningful life, and how memories are altered over time to conform to one’s self-concept. This book will appeal to readers that enjoy deep character studies, or quiet, reflective stories. I find I am increasingly drawn to this type narrative and plan to read more of Ishiguro’s catalogue.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Ishiguro's writing is filled with such nuance in the way it reflects personality and history, books like this one come to life with their own odd echo of the past. In many ways, reading this one reminded me of first encountering his Remains of the Day, though I think I appreciated this more after having read the other. Ishiguro's shifts in structure and memory within this one are ever more careful and aware as the book goes on, and although I cannot say I enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed Ishiguro's other works, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Sep 26, 2022 |
Reason Read: Alpha KI. Nobel Prize, 1001, ROOT

This is set in Japan, post WWII and it features four generations. The narrator and protagonist is Masuji Ono. He is an old man and he is the one telling the story so there is the problem with memory but Ono became an artist though his father wanted him to follow in the business. As an artist he was good, but he used his art as propaganda for imperialism and at the point of the story. He does not talk much about his art and states "they are packed away". His daughters aand grandson are also part of the story. His one daughter is married and she is more traditional, taking a backseat approach with her father rather than directly confrontational. His other daughter is attempting to marry and there is the process of getting the marriage arranged. His grandson is a headstrong boy and it is a very nice part of the book to see the interaction between grandpa and grandson.

I enjoyed the story though not as much as The Remains of the Day which remains my favorite but I like stories that feature older people and especially enjoyed a look at Japan post war and through the generations. ( )
  Kristelh | Sep 19, 2022 |
I don’t even know what to say about this book without spoiling it in some way.

“An Artist of the Floating World” follows an artist called Masuji Ono as he reflects on his past and navigates a present very different from what he was used to. When Ono was younger he used art to celebrate physical beauty and the “floating world” —the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink. Once he starts hanging out with another character he gets interested in politics and his art shifts to work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. In the present time, Ono is trying to marry his youngest daughter, but he feels like his past is making it hard to find her a good husband and he struggles with the love the young generation has for America.

Masuji Ono is an example of brilliant character work. Once again Ishiguro uses first person perspective and the unreliability of memory to craft a superb and dream-like narrative. Some of the themes reminded me of “A Pale View of Hills” and the feeling I had reading this book was similar, but I liked this one a bit more.

There isn’t that much plot and the “reveals” are slow to come. Personally, I love that as long as the characters are interesting to follow and I thought Ono was very realistic. Besides the conflicting political views between characters, there are also conflicting views about art — what it should be used for and if it should be pursued. Both topics were fascinating and I liked to see the extent of Ono’s involvement in other characters’ lives and how he really feels about his past and present.

So far, I am really pleased with Kazuo Ishiguro’s work and I can’t wait to read more. ( )
  elderlingfae | Aug 11, 2022 |
An Artist of the Floating World has much the same flavor to it that Remains of the Day possesses. It is a first person narrative from a narrator who is obvious in his inability to be impartial or reliable. As we try to piece together the truth of this man and his life, there is a heaviness of spirit that emerges, a sense of failure that is misunderstood, and a sense that Ono, the narrator, not only misunderstands himself but also those around him.

Like much of Ishiguro’s work, this book leaves you at the end with a lot of questions you feel you must not only ask, but answer. Is it better to have acted upon your convictions and been wrong than to have done nothing at all? Are we ever as important to the world as we believe we are? When does conviction become narrow-mindedness? Are we ever right to impose our views upon others, and what price is fair for making a mistake that can be literally seen as the mistake of an entire society? And, I suppose I would add one more: Can we ever remember the past as it actually was, or must be always alter it somewhat to make the memory survivable?

Another question that I have pondered over my life is that of what makes an artist or a piece of art great? If it is declared to be great, can it then be less simply because fashions have changed, times have changed, or the subject matter becomes less palatable. I have wondered about this in regards to literature as well as painting. Sometimes it seems so arbitrary. For instance, there were paintings that were done by a student of a master (I believe it was Rembrandt, but don’t hold me to that). At any rate, they were mistaken to be the major artists’ works and declared to be masterpieces and worth millions. It was then discovered that although they were painted in the same time, they were not his work. Immediately they became second-rate and worth much less. How can this be so? If they were masterfully done, are they not still masterfully done? Are they of less value because the painter is no longer a well-recognized name or figure?
The imagery in the novel is striking. There are many scenes where the description amounts to a visual painting:

Beneath his umbrella, he was hatless and dressed in a dark raincoat. The charred buildings behind him were dripping and the remnant of some gutter was making a large amount of rainwater splash down not far from him. I remember a truck going by between us, full of building workers. And I noticed how one of the spokes of his umbrella was broken, causing some more splashing just beside his foot.

If I could paint, I would paint this man, for I can see him and I can see how broken he is and how all of his physical environment echoes his loneliness and sorrow.

In a world that is changing, that has already changed, post-war Japan, Mr. Ono is a fish out of water, a man who cannot reconcile his version of his life or his country with the version that is presented to him by his children or his society. He struggles to see why his masterpiece is now a forgery, or at the least a mistake. And, Ishiguro captures his struggle perfectly.

The best things, he always used to say, are put together of a night and vanish with the morning. What people call the floating world, Ono, was a world Gisaburo knew how to value.

Perhaps all things are temporary, fleeting, gone in an instant, and perhaps the only success or victory in life is to be able to see them momentarily and appreciate their value.

( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (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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For my parents
First words
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.
Quotations
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

" From A to Z, the Penguin Drop Caps series collects 26 unique hardcovers-featuring cover art by Jessica Hische. It all begins with a letter. Fall in love with Penguin Drop Caps, a new series of twenty-six collectible and hardcover editions, each with a type cover showcasing a gorgeously illustrated letter of the alphabet. In a design collaboration between Jessica Hische and Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley, the series features unique cover art by Hische, a superstar in the world of type design and illustration, whose work has appeared everywhere from Tiffany & Co. to Wes Anderson's recent film Moonrise Kingdom to Penguin's own bestsellers Committed and Rules of Civility. With exclusive designs that have never before appeared on Hische's hugely popular Daily Drop Cap blog, the Penguin Drop Caps series launches with six perennial favorites to give as elegant gifts, or to showcase on your own shelves. I is for Ishiguro. Masuji Ono saw misery in his homeland and became unwilling to spend his skills solely in the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he envisioned a strong and powerful nation of the future, and he put his painting to work in the service of the movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Masuji Ono struggles through the spiritual wreckage of that war, his memories of the "floating world" of his youth, full of pleasure and promise, serve as an escape from, a punishment for-and a justification of-his entire life. Drifting without honor in Japan's postwar society, which indicts him for its defeat and reviles him for his aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being. An Artist of the Floating World is a sensual and profoundly convincing portrait of the artist as an aging man. At once a multigenerational tale and a samurai death poem written in English, it is also a saga of the clash of the old and new orders, blending classical and contemporary iconography with compassion and wit"--

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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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