When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Vintage, New York, 2001

From my TBR pile.  On the short list for the 2000 Booker prize.  I am reading along with Wendy’s Literary Novels from my Stack personal challenge when I can.  February is Man Booker Prize Month.

An elegant novel about memory, When We Were Orphans is a slow, controlled and engaging mystery.

Christopher Banks, this novel’s first person narrator,  is a famous detective in London.  Orphaned at a young age, sent from Shanghai to England, his one desire is to become a great detective.  Cool, reticent and self-controlled, he attains his goal, all the time remaining distant from those around him.   Twenty years later he is determined to return to the Shanghai and solve the case of his parents’ disappearances.  When he does return to the far east things are not at all how he remembers them.

Banks holds himself at a distance, from the reader,  from friends and from colleagues.  He does not allow life’s possibilities to distract him from his goal.  He lives at a remove, from his emotions and his personal history.  This gives the novel a chill, it feels like a ghost story.  In fact it is haunted, by Christopher’s past, his missing parents, the intrigues of early twentieth-century Shanghai.

I found When We Were Orphans difficult in places, maybe because I found it hard to empathize with Christopher Banks.  It will not be my  favorite Ishiguro novel, but I am continually awed by his style, use of restraint and use of language.  He is one of those authors who constantly surprises me and I plan to read all of his work.


Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, Kazuo Ishiguro, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

13 responses to “When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. I read this years ago (my first Ishiguro novel) and didn’t care for it much – had a hard time with Christopher. It almost put me off reading more of Ishiguro’s work. Never Let Me Go was better (still need to see the film) and I plan to read The Remains of the Day next.

  2. I have never read this author before. I have been meaning to, but hasn’t happened yet…

  3. I’ve only read one Ishiguro book but “slow and controlled” is how I’d describe that one too.

  4. I think I had the same reaction as you. regarding this book. Ishiguro is one of my favourite writers and this period in history is also something I find hard to resist. And yet. I think I loved Remains of the Day too much:)

  5. Ti

    I’ve only read Never Let Me Go but I recall the casual, detached manner in which he writes. It appealed to me then and makes me want to read this one next.

    BTW…how are you? Long time no “see.” LOL.

    • Ti, you are so right about Ishiguro’s detached manner. It is even more prevalent in When We Were Orphan’s. I am fine, just really busy and exhausted after work so mostly lurking and not commenting much. Thanks for asking and I hope things are well with you all. (You did make me add The Technologists to my TBR list, did I mention that?)

  6. I didn’t know Feb. is Man Booker Month. But, glad you’re joining us in our group read of Midnight’s Children, the Booker of the Booker. I had the same feeling when I read When We Were Orphans… dreamlike, but unsettling. It’s not my favorite Ishiguro either. Best ones for me are The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

    • I think February is Man Booker month only as far as Caribousmom’s list, the 2012 long list will be announced this week. I am really excited about the Midnight’s Children group read!

      • Oops, I messed that up! It’s the Orange Prize long list that was announced today. The Man Booker list is announced in July.

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