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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
Missing persons, unsolved mysteries, and shanghaied histories come together in Kazuo Ishiguro's captivating new audiobook exploring the nature of memory and the fate it propels us toward. The acclaimed and prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World, Ishiguro weaves a complex tale of alienation and detachment at the dawn of the Second World War, in When We Were Orphans.
Born in Shanghai in the early 20th century, Christopher Banks spent his youth in the safety of the International Settlement, under the constant eyes of his parents, his amah, and the servants who watched him and his Japanese playmate, Akira. Though guarded from the economic turbulence his father's company is steeped in, and the destructive opium trade that his mother passionately speaks out against, Christopher's security is shattered at the age of nine, when both his parents, on separate occasions, vanish without a trace, and he is forced to move to England to live with his aunt. Intent on one day returning to Shanghai to solve the mysteries of his parents' disappearance, his goal of becoming a great detective is no Sherlock Holmes pipe-dream -- it is a mission.
Christopher's childhood, however, is recalled only through memory, and in fact, our glimpses of him come much later, in the 1930s, when he is hobnobbing amid London high society, where he is an outsider who is nevertheless gaining renown. Though he has been mocked his whole life for clinging to an apparently childish fantasy of sleuthing, it has done nothing to diminish the fervor with which he pursues his vocation, and he soon becomes one of the most renowned detectives of his time. But as the rumblings of another World War threaten the Far East and the shores of England alike, Christopher feels even more urgently the pressures of his mission, and he is drawn even closer to finally facing his fate.
Even in less ambitious hands, When We Were Orphans could have made a compelling detective story, but Ishiguro has instead created a story about the fractured internal life of a detective in search of himself. Through John Lee's gentle British voice, Christopher's narrative tone comes across pitch-perfect in this audio -- polite but formal, clearly detached from his experience, but simultaneously attempting to be honest about it. As the somewhat mundane events of his daily life in London trigger an avalanche of memories, now fading, of his life in Shanghai, the reader is drawn into a story of mounting psychological suspense, heartbreaking complexity, and profound revelation. A moving triumph by a masterful writer, When We Were Orphans sets itself the task of solving the most confounding mysteries of the human spirit and discovering locked secrets of the heart.
Elise Vogel is a freelance writer living in New York City.