When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans

by Kazuo Ishiguro
3.6 25

Paperback(VINTAGE)

$11.10 $16.00 Save 31% Current price is $11.1, Original price is $16. You Save 31%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Get it by Thursday, October 26 , Order now and choose Expedited Delivery during checkout.

Overview

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

From the Booker Prize-winning, bestselling author of Remains of the Day comes this stunning work of soaring imagination.

Born in early-twentieth-century Shanghai, Banks was orphaned at the age of nine after the separate disappearances of his parents. Now, more than twenty years later, he is a celebrated figure in London society; yet the investigative expertise that has garnered him fame has done little to illuminate the circumstances of his parents' alleged kidnappings. Banks travels to the seething, labyrinthine city of his memory in hopes of solving the mystery of his own, painful past, only to find that war is ravaging Shanghai beyond recognition-and that his own recollections are proving as difficult to trust as the people around him.

Masterful, suspenseful and psychologically acute, When We Were Orphans offers a profound meditation on the shifting quality of memory, and the possibility of avenging one’s past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375724404
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/30/2001
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: VINTAGE
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 108,927
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: 1030L (what's this?)

About the Author

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. His father, an oceanographer, was hired by the British government in 1960, and the family moved to Surrey, England, never expecting to stay long. His grandfather, to whom he was close, sent him packages of Japan’s most popular children’s magazine, so he wouldn’t feel out of touch when he returned. But they remained in England, and Ishiguro (known to friends as “Ish”) “never properly said goodbye to Japan” or his grandparents. When his grandfather died in their old house in Nagasaki, they had not visited Japan in ten years. Even now, he has only returned once, on an author tour, though he has travelled throughout Europe and North America. While in some ways it might seem as though he has lost his “Japanese-ness”, he has avoided going back mainly because “in my head…the world of my childhood is still intact.” Perhaps that vision contributed to the beautifully conjured lost paradise of Banks’ youth in the novel, and for the metaphor of the orphan, torn from the sheltered haven of childhood. It may also account for Ishiguro’s persistent fascination with memory.

After his first year at Kent University, where he read English and Philosophy, he took a sabbatical to work on a housing estate outside Glasgow; after finishing his degree, he volunteered in London for an organization that looked after the homeless. He read little as a teenager, and wanted to be a singer-songwriter until around age twenty-four. But, he ventures, “you bang on a door and it doesn’t open, and another one happens to open, so you go through it.” Thus, he enrolled in the top-notch creative writing program at the University of East Anglia, where his tutors were Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. His first short stories were included in a prominent volume of promising young writers, and his first novel was published soon after. Now he writes full-time, working very regular hours of 9:00 a.m. — 5:30 p.m., at home in Golders Green, a leafy and now multicultural suburb of north London, which allows him to spend a lot of time with his wife and partner of twenty years and their young daughter. In his spare time, he plays jazz, folk and blues on his collection of guitars.

Surprisingly, Ishiguro admits that his novels are, to some extent, deliberately “going over the same ground,” often told in a pseudo-diary form by a single central narrator, with flashbacks as the narrator looks back from different points. “That’s the foundation of the structure for me – the state of mind of the narrator shifting slightly but ever so significantly.” With Banks, determined to fulfill his mission no matter how destructive or selfish it might seem, he was “tracing someone’s obsessions and how certain agendas…set emotionally, early in life, can continue to assert themselves throughout adulthood.… Peculiar things govern the big decisions that we make in our lives. Often it’s something rather irrational.” Ishiguro compares the book to an expressionist painting, where the world is distorted by the emotion of the artist’s perspective: it is “an attempt to paint a picture” of the world “according to someone's crazy logic.”

The taking-off point was the ‘30s English detective novel, such as those of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, which he read as a child. “What interested me…was that they often portrayed this idyllic view of English society…this community that would work really beautifully if there wasn’t this one thing that had gone wrong.” The villain is always found, and life is perfect again: pure escapism. But after World War I, people didn’t need reminding of the real nature of evil and suffering. “I had the image of such a detective let loose in the modern world, still with the idea that he can counter evil by these methods. And how absurd it would look going round with a magnifying glass trying to stop the Second World War.” In a sense, Banks represents the naïve, innocent, idealistic part of all of us. “It’s tempting to say that there was an evil man called Hitler who decided to kill the Jews,” but that is to deny the “chaos and blood-lust” of a century of history.

Of his tendency to write about World War II, he comments: “Part of me is very affected by the fact that I was born in Nagasaki nine years after the atomic bomb hit that city.” On August 9, 1945, thirty-nine thousand people were killed, and the surviving half of the city had to burn the bodies before disease set in; his mother was eighteen. When Ishiguro published his first short stories, she told him: “You are in the public realm now, you have some power.” A recent visit to Auschwitz made him particularly conscious of the fact that when the survivors are gone, there is a danger the memory will have no more relevance to future generations than the Napoleonic Wars. For the first time in a century, there is a generation who has never known military conflict, with leaders who did not experience a war directly. He feels “it is the duty of all my generation to keep memories alive, we who grew up in the shadow of war.”

However, he chooses the setting of each novel to bring out his themes and is not interested in historical reconstruction, which he says is for films, not books. “To make that projector come on inside a reader’s head, you…have to give just enough so that the reader brings all these other images that are floating around in his or her head…. To a certain extent you can muck about with stereotypes and stereotypical images and you can juxtapose them in unlikely ways.” Just as the England of The Remains of the Day was “highly mythological,” he uses the image of pre-war Shanghai as a city of international intrigue. He’s less and less interested in realism, and aims for what cannot be done in cinema and television. “One of the strengths of novels over camera-based storytelling is that you are able to get right inside people’s heads…to explore people's inner worlds much more thoroughly and with much more subtlety.”

Each of his understated, finely wrought novels has been published to international acclaim beyond most writers’ dreams. He was in both of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists anthologies, and won the Booker Prize at thirty-four. But The Unconsoled baffled many: “600 pages of plotless, circular, sustained hallucination,” said the Guardian, who wondered if When We Were Orphans was an attempt to get his point across better. Some dislike his style here, too. Neil Bissoondath in the National Post was not alone in commenting that the novel was “strangely flat.” The Observer said the protagonist’s diction was unsuited to his character; others complained of too subtle humour and instabilities of tone. While author Catherine Bush, in The Globe and Mail, agreed that reading When We Were Orphans was an “increasingly bewildering experience,” concluded: “Ishiguro’s novels require a reader to read aslant, to play detective, if you will, alive to clues, to what’s left out as much as what’s revealed.” The novel should provide plenty of debate.

Ishiguro says he’s a less controlled writer than he used to be – he actually threw out 110 pages, almost a year’s work, of a story-within-a-story showing the Golden Age sleuth at work. The Remains of the Day was his easiest book to write. He plans his novels less rigidly now, allowing room for surprises. (“Some of the most interesting writing can be stuff that is quite uncomfortable for the writer.”) He feels a sense of urgency about his writing, worrying that publicity — which he does so well, giving long and detailed interviews – takes so much time. He also feels that makes writers very self-conscious about their work, for better or worse, and aware of their international audience. “I think when people look back on this era, and when they look at the literature produced in this era, they’ll have to look at the tour to understand why writing has gone in a certain direction.”

Ishiguro’s work is often compared to that of Franz Kafka, and sometimes to the work of Dostoevsky, whom he names as one of his favourite writers. He also admires Chekhov’s short stories, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, James Ellroy, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the Jeeves novels of P. G. Wodehouse, and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes stories.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

When We Were Orphans 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While the story of Christopher's search for his parents promised so much, the cold pomposity of his character, combined with his self absorbtion and general lack of concern with anyone else's feelings made this a tough read. For a book to really soar one has to have at least some sympathy with it's protagonists, but in this book it was hard from the outset.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is about a generally dislikeable fellow. He has a high opinion of himself, but very little esteem. He spends the majority of his life trying to prove his worth not only to himself but to others around him. As this story unravels, the last few pages give a glimmer of light that he has finally discovered a bit a meaning in living.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want a conventional story, this is not the author, nor the book for you. But if you love a challenging read, one that you will think about and savor long after you are finished, you will not be disappointed. I wish he would write a book every year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is difficult not to think of Ismail Merchant, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and James Ivory when reading this book. Merchant Ivory¿s films are consistently exceptional in there own right, while never dismembering the book you may have so enjoyed. But to think this is anything less than a brilliant piece of writing would be unfair, and to suggest this is a ready-made screenplay is absurd. Mr. Ishiguro is a magnificent writer. He need not be shrill to make a point, nor profane to shock or maintain the reader¿s attention. The cadence of this novel is leisurely, and being such it produces widely disparate understandings amongst readers. I enjoyed parts of all the 6 reviews I read, as I was not the only one who wasn¿t precisely sure when I had found solid ground when reading this work. I believe if read a second time the truth would be very apparent. That a second effort may be required is yet another testament to the writer, and in no way insulting to the reader. The protagonist suffers painful events as a child. There is no reasonable way they could not cause terrible damage, and then leave their scars. Mr. Ishiguro explores this gently, just as the victim may not overtly manifest outrageous behavior. His careful treatment of Christopher is not vague or deficient, it reads as being appropriate, and exposes the results of his traumas with the time and care they need. ¿Threads¿ are often used to describe the storyline of a work. In many books I would suggest they are more like mooring ropes. In this book threads is being generous, for the first person narrative is not written deceptively, but can be construed differently by a group of readers. I think this is great. It¿s quite rare to read a contemporary work that does not hammer away at a tired theme, disclose the end when the prologue has barely been passed, or just insult the reader by presuming we are encephalitic illiterates. (Not trying to showboat, just loved the sound of those two words) It took what was probably the most jarring event to finally convince me I wasn¿t lost. And the event was much closer to the end than the start. What is real, and what is not will be decided by how carefully you read, and how cautious you are with the limitations of first person narrative. It is not a method that allows for much independent verification. However, I never felt frustrated, as the writer is so good and the read so enjoyable. I wish I could say more, but I would ruin what the book will be for you. I can say you will enjoy the read immensely.
BooksCatsEtc More than 1 year ago
Altho Ishiguro's writing is beautiful, this is the first of his novels I've had a "meh" reaction to. The mystery element of the story completed ruined it for me -- it was too unbelievable and bizarre.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kazuo Ishiguro has mastered the art of creating a slightly surreal mood in his novels. Nothing is as it first seems and one is left pondering the deeper questions in life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ishiguro is extremely talented: A Pale View of Hills and Remains are both great books. That's what makes this sad effort so infuriating. While Ishiguro's command of prose is as impressive as ever, the narrative falls apart completely halfway through. (Others have summarized the plot, so I won't do so here.) Once Christopher returns to Shanghai, Ishiguro seems to give up on the book. Perhaps he was uncertain of how to end the book and simply rushed through an incredible conclusion simply to enable himself to pack this one off to the publishers? I have nothing against authors using an evidently unreliable first person narrative to introduce an element of uncertainty - this works acceptably through the first half of the book. But such a device is not an excuse for failing to make the narrative believable, or for having it adhere to some form of logic, even if that logic is oblique. The cartoonish, pulp-novel unbelievability of Christopher's final 'adventure' is silly and tedious, ultimately an insult to Ishiguro's readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book I thought was intricately worded and the author is no doubt great at creating a detailed atmosphere, but the story overall was lacking in depth and I could not find myself really getting in touch with the main character. Not the best read, but in all pleasantly satisfactory.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nagasaki born London based novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has produced an impressive body of work which has brought him international acclaim. His third novel, The Remains Of The Day, has been called one of the most beautifully written in contemporary English literature. The same may be said of his latest, When We Were Orphans, an unparalleled masterpiece of limitless imagination and impeccable prose. In several of Mr. Ishiguro's previous offerings the protagonist reflects upon his life and the events that have molded it. So it is once more as we meet Christopher Banks, an Englishman who enjoyed an early childhood of comparative luxury with his mother and father in Shanghai, China. Their home was owned by a British company for whom the boy's father worked, a company which seemingly bore some responsibility for the opium trade. At the age of nine, Christopher is abruptly left alone when first his father and then his mother mysteriously disappear. The boy is dispatched to the care of an aunt who lives in England. Upon completion of his schooling Christopher fulfills his dream of becoming a detective. . But the unexplained disappearance of his parents has haunted him and he returns to Shanghai in 1937, at the height of the Sino-Japanese conflagration, to piece this puzzle together. Yet, the heart of Mr. Ishiguro's intriguing work is not to be found in the unraveling of a mystery, but rather in the labyrinth of human mind and memory - what is real, what is imagined, what is wished for? When We Were Orphans is the result of a gifted, meditative author in praiseworthy form. It is a marvel of exquisitely drawn controlled prose, a complexly plotted drama, one to be savored and admired.
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
When We Were Orphans unfolds in a very interesting way. On the surface this novel is about our narrator, Christopher Banks, a renowned London detective whose parents were kidnapped in Shanghai when he was a child. We follow him as he builds his name in London society, all the while with the intent of someday returning to Shanghai to solve his parents' kidnapping. Christopher is at first presented as a clear-minded, logical person; a detective in the mold of Holmes. Though even early on we are given hints that he is not entirely self-aware. It is when he finally returns to Shanghai, some 20 plus years after his parents disappeared, that we see who Christopher really is. Amidst the turmoil of the Japanese invasion Christopher's fantasy world comes crashing down, and we see just how emotionally stunted and willfully delusional he is, and has been since the very beginning. As he struggles to maintain his illusions we watch while his characters devolves. Simultaneously the structure and tone of the novel devolve in a powerful echo of Christopher's shattering world. Ishiguro pulls this off beautifully, and while this is not my favorite of his novels it's certainly his most ambitious, and a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To tell if a book is going to be good, when purchasing or borrowing, compare the font size of the author's name with the font size of the book's title. If the author's name is the biggest item on the cover, keep on walking. The publisher is trying to sell a runner-up based on past glories. This holds true for When We Were Orphans. Ishiguro has established himself with Remains of the Day. Now, whatever he writes is piggy-backed on that success. Thus, the publishing house is trying to make money off the name. A decent book and I suppose I enjoyed it. I've read worse.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The main character Banks is about as gripping as a live eel. The story is narrated through him and the reader can only guess at how conservative, friendless, boring, and pathetic the Banks hiding beneath a stiff upper lip and a lot of detecting jargon might be. It is hard to have a lot of sympathy or even empathy for a character so unlikeable. As such the one scene which is even vaguely a candidate for poignancy - where Banks finally meets his senile and estranged mother - is rendered useless because you've just stop caring about his quest for his parents. The cold, unexciting narrative style lingers on irrelevant details, spins out events as if they were more profound than they are and attempts to dress up a substancial lack of a cohesive plot. Banks is utterly unbelievable, changing his mind hilly-nilly not to suit the demands of a credible character but to suit the bizarre twists and turns of a random and rambling plot line. The plot for the record is not only random - it is also very boring. The childhood memories are about as nostalgic as a maths lesson - and a maths lesson serves a puropse which is more than we can say for most of these annoying episodes. If you are alone on a desert island and only have this to read I would consider adding it to your fire fuel or supply of bog roll.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Are u there?