Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lost in Shanghai

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote the wonderful novel “The Remains of the Day” which won the Booker Prize in 1989. Ishiguro is a memorable writer and “The Remains of the Day“ is one of my favorite novels. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan and raised in Britain. His novels are usually set in Britain and his narrators are strong British voices.

Christopher Banks is the narrator of Ishiguro’s novel written in 2000, “When We Were Orphans”. Banks was born in Shanghai to British parents in the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel spans a time frame from 1930 to 1937, as Christopher retells his life story and attempts to solve its mystery.

Christopher lived with his parents in Shanghai where his father worked for a large British company and his mother was a social activist. He had an idyllic childhood which he shared with his best friend and neighbor, a Japanese boy named, Akira. This idyllic life ended for Christopher when he was ten years old and his father suddenly disappeared. Within weeks his beloved mother also disappeared and Christopher was sent to England to live with his aunt. Christopher’s life long desire to become a detective and solve the mystery of the disappearance of his parents becomes a reality in London after he finishes Cambridge.

Ishiguro does a wonderful job of telling the story of Christopher’s childhood using Christopher’s boyhood reminiscences. In 1938 as an adult and a renowned detective, Christopher returns to Shanghai to solve the mystery. Here Ishiguro’s story becomes difficult to follow as Christopher’s reality quickly slides into fantasy.

But being the great storyteller that he is, the author brings us to a believable ending. The last chapter is set in 1958 as Christopher looks back on his life as an orphan and the strange circumstances that surrounded his family.

“When We Were Orphans” was a great read. Maybe not as great as “The Remains of the Day”, but definitely an intriguing story, written with the beautiful prose and compelling plot that has consistently characterized Ishiguro’s novels.

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