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When We Were Orphans
by Kazuo Ishiguro

When 9-year-old Christopher Banks's father-- a British businessman involved in the opium trade-- disappears from the family home in Shanghai, the boy and his friend Akira play at being detectives. But Christopher's mother also disappears, and he is sent to live in England, where he grows up in the years between the world wars to become, he claims, a famous detective. His family's fate continues to haunt him, however, and he sifts through his memories to try to make sense of his loss. Finally, in the late 1930s, he returns to Shanghai to solve the most important case of his life. But as Christopher pursues his investigation, the boundaries between fact and fantasy begin to evaporate.
      Shortlisted for the Booker.



Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (1 of 41), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 07:29 PM This whole thread may contain spoilers. Ishiguro is a master of subtlety and of making his narrative evoke much more than the words say. So much of the flavor and intensity of his writing lies in what remains unsaid. As a narrator, Christopher Banks is cool and unemotional, almost tentative in his description of events. Yet the reader can sense the turmoil beneath his words. Banks became a detective -- a veritable Sherlock Holmes, with cases and successes and a following. Yet, even with all these successes, the solution of the mystery that fueled his imagination remains beyond his grasp. What must it have been like to be totally abandoned by both parents with no explanation? With Banks’ slow, deliberate almost detached way of describing events, we sense the unexplored pain and loss that threatens to overwhelm him. Memory -- the painstaking unwinding of events is the main focus of the narration. This story reminds me of a steam engine, straining to get to the crest of a mountain, and then and then and then comes hurtling down, with all of gravity and the forces of nature behind it. The scenes on the war front were frighteningly surrealist. Did anyone really expect his parents to be in that house? Why would such a great detective be so naïve? And what about Akira? At that point, Banks really seemed like a little boy again, tricked by an overactive imagination combined with a lifetime of wishful thinking. What do you all think about the line “I was too late”? He was too late a lot. What caused that? Inaction? Fear? Need to have everything under control? Sherry
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (2 of 41), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 07:47 PM I was very surprised that a world renowned investigator would have the naive belief that his parents survived after twenty years. But, really, neither did survive. They both were dead in different ways, his father physically and his mother mentally. I loved the narrative style of this novel.I felt as tho I were walking with Christopher as he calmly speaks of the tragedy in his life. And, when you think of it, every relationship in his life, with the exception of Jennifer, came to a tragic end. The only saving grace in finding his mother was to know that she loved him deeply, throughout all the years, and that the love she felt for him was so deep that it became the ground of her emotional garden. She, in her mind, forevermore would live in the past with her young child. Beej
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (3 of 41), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 08:08 PM The whole writing style here made me think it was an homage to Conan Doyle. Sherlockian to the max. After I realized that things were going to go slowly, and I might just as well relax and enjoy the ride, I did. But my willing suspension of disbelief began to sag towards the end, especially the war scenes. And here's something else that's beenn puzzling me. Why do you suppose KI added the bit about Christopher having to go to China to save the world? Wasn't it enough that he go to find out what happened to his parents? Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (4 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 09:04 PM Beej, Ruth, & Sherry: I'm just now wending my way to the end of WWWO, and will have to give some more thought to the points you raise. I can already say, though, that Ishiguro has definitely wowed me with this one. Not least of his achievements is the technical balancing act he pulls off, between an understated prose style and intense dramatic punch...I'm in awe of the affects he achieves with such subtlety. Can't remember anything to quite match it since...well, since REMAINS OF THE DAY. I know that ORPHANS goes on my Top 10 of the year list, maybe higher. I look forward to hearing other reactions to this really classy piece of work. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (5 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 10:18 PM I think Christopher is an unreliable narrator and I didn't know what to believe by the end of the novel. He seems to excel at self-deception. He denies other people's perception of his past. For example, he meets his old school friend James Osbourne on the opening page. James recalls that Christopher was "such an odd bird at school," deeply offending his friend. Christopher's "own memory is that I blended in perfectly." He meets the man who accompanied him on the boat to England right after his parents had disappeared. This man recalls how sorry he felt for the miserable little boy. Christopher does not remember being miserable. In Shanghai, he meets Morgan, another old school mate. Morgan remembers that they were both miserable loners. Christopher "is astounded" at this assertion that he was unhappy and friendless. Morgan, in turn responds with "Extraordinary"-- amazed at Christopher's denial. There are other references in the book to the fact that people are laughing at Christopher and his pretensions to being a detective. At the wedding he attends in Chapter 11, the brother of the groom apologizes profusely for the people who are harassing Christopher. Once more he denies this. "If anything I was enjoying the joke just as much as they were." Christopher doesn't see himself as others seem him, so I started to wonder how much of what he was telling the reader was true. Sherry mentioned those grandiose ideas he had of saving the world. Was that a sign of mental illness? The part of the book set in China is indeed surreal. Does it describe reality, or Christopher's perception of it, distorted by his terrible need to find a reason for the disappearance of his parents. The fate of his mother seems totally preposterous. I would like to see a sequel to this book, written from another character's point of view. I am not sure what to make of it, but it is one of the most interesting books I have read in recent years. Ann
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (6 of 41), Read 51 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 10:28 PM Right, Ann. It was obvious that ol' Chris was fooling himself about not having been a miserable little snotface when he was young. But I hadn't made the leap that you did - that perhaps he wasn't the world-famous detective he said he was - and perhaps the "save the world" idea was completely delusional. I'm sure the meeting with Akira was a delusion. And the rest of the war scene works much better if it's viewed as a delusion. Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (7 of 41), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 10:29 PM Ann: I very much agree. Christopher = Unreliable Narrator to the 10th power. In fact, I'm wondering if Ishiguro consciously reflected on the unreliable-narrator aspect of REMAINS OF THE DAY and decided to see just how far he could push that one quality in ORPHANS. In my estimation he pushed it, pardon the expression, a hell of a long way. I'm sure that Christopher's narrative parts company with literal reality at some point(s), but exactly when/where that happens remains an ever-shifting puzzle. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (8 of 41), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 10:41 PM Here's an Ishiguro interview from BookPage in which he addresses some of the questions we've raised... http://www.bookpage.com/0009bp/kazuo_ishiguro.html >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (9 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 10:48 PM I thought the book was a great read, so chalk one up for Ishiguro. But I just couldn't feel any ring of authenticity for Christopher Banks. What bachelor in those days would be allowed to adopt a young girl like that? Why was a party being arranged to celebrate his "finding" his parents? That hit me out of the blue. I assumed he knew they were dead, or else he'd have been searching for them long before. And in the middle of this intense search, he agrees to run off with Sarah--then ditches her for the adventure again. Usually when I am this dissatisfied with a main character, I completely pan the book. But not this time--despite it all, I was swept away with the telling of the story, but not the story itself. Anne
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (10 of 41), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 10:56 PM Ann, your post was a real eye opener for me! I took most of the book at face value, with two exceptions. First, toward the end when he tells the Lieutenant that he knew full well the Lieutenant blamed him for the destruction and suffering of the battle. This was my first inkling that Christopher was delusional. And second, when he stumbled upon Akira. I doubted it was really Akira.. And I did realize early on that Christopher's reasoning was off kilter about the odds of his parents' survival. But now I wonder if Sarah Hemmings really planned on leaving with Christopher and even if Christopher really found his mother. Now I'm wondering if it was Christopher in the asylum and not his mother. Beej
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (11 of 41), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 11:18 PM Beej, I don't think we can trust much of anything, which I find quite frustrating as a reader, although I admire Ishiguro for daring to write a book like this. Dale, thanks for the interview. I especially like the part about Christopher equating his attempt to rescue his parents, and thus make whole his own private world, with his grandiose ideas about saving civilization. Until he got to China, I knew Christopher excelled at self-delusion, but the story still seemed realistic. After the return to Shanghai, things got so bizarre that I lost some interest. I was hoping Ishiguro would pull it all together at the end and provide some resolution. Of course, if you take the story at face value, he did. I couldn't take it at face value and kept waiting for the rest of the story. Ann
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (12 of 41), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 04:40 AM Ann -- I am pretty much with you on this -- the ending left me wanting to know more of what went on with Christopher relative to this "discovery" of his mother and questioning his actually having experienced this as such. His own inaccurate readings of events throughout his life leads me to think he may well have rewritten this in his telling. But the overall response to this tale is one of thoroughly enjoying the whole -- enjoying the revelations of Christopher -- the realities as viewed by him and by others and the revelation of the working of his mind relative to those events. Events with which his child's mind could not cope and did not cope for his lifetime perhaps. An amazing book -- and as I said on that earlier thread I didn't so much devour this one as it devoured me. The war front scenes were such that the descriptions reminded me of scenes in Slaughterhouse Five -- and I wondered about Akira -- or was it Akira? -- I think the fact that I'm still not certain is tribute to Ishiguro. I know this one goes on my all-time list and I will return to it -- maybe in tandem with Slaughterhouse Five and Blessing on the Moon -- another story which somehow comes to mind as I think of this one. Dottie
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (13 of 41), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 07:48 AM One thing I am sure of, is that it was not Akira. To me that was the turning point in the revelation that Banks was exceptionally deluded. The war scenes were real life coming apart, no matter how hard he tried to deceive himself. Ruth, I think the question you asked about why have him try to save the world, has now been answered. To me it seemed to go hand in hand. He thought that his parents' kidnapping was an important, world-shattering event (and it was, to him) connected in mysterious ways to all the political upheaval going on. To solve one would be to solve the other. Ishiguro talked about this kind of "weird logic" in the interview Dale linked to. Banks being an unreliable narrator didn't bother me in the least. Maybe I was gulled by him, but I enjoyed it. I could tell his perception of the world was certainly skewed to provide himself some emotional comfort. But I had an almost protective, motherly feeling for him. I so much wanted him to be all right. I was very much reminded of the feeling I had for the butler in Remains of the Day. He seemed so emotionally vulnerable, but coped with it the best way he knew how. Sherry
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (14 of 41), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 10:11 AM Sherry: I think seeing that "weird logic" at work is part of what makes this book so affecting for me. One point at which I knew Christopher had some real problems is when he's defensive...in his own mind, at least...about why he's let 20 years go by before going on this all-out quest to rescue his parents. His reasoning, basically, is that he's been very busy. As preposterous as this sounds on its face, it makes me uncomfortable because I can think of situations in my own life when I've done, or failed to do, very crucial things with, in hindsight, no better justification. Whatever membrane lies between sanity and delusion is a lot thinner, and a lot more permeable, than we can let ourselves believe and still get through the day. A very disturbing book. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (15 of 41), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 01:35 PM I agree. Not Akira. Obviously someone who took advantage of C's delusion. Or was it? Was there a Japanese soldier at all? I can't believe I realized he was fooling himself about his childhood, and yet I bought the rest of his story hook, line and sinker. Now I want to go back and read this again. Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (16 of 41), Read 48 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 09:54 PM Great posts everyone! I guess I believed much of what Christopher had to say. I didn't believe the part about Akira, because Ishiguro made that obvious that it wasn't Akira. As I mentioned in one of our teaser posts, I liked the feeling of being transported to early 20th century Shanghai. Jane
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (17 of 41), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 09:59 PM Did it seem odd to anyone else that, with the exception of his on again, off again fascination with Sarah, there was no real romantic interests in Christopher's life whatsoever? Beej
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (18 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 10:04 PM Jane, come to think of it, we don't even really know if there was an Akira in his childhood, either. I'm with you, Ruth..this is going to call for a quick re-read. Beej
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (19 of 41), Read 51 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 11:09 PM Beej: I know what you mean, about Christopher's reactions to women. Something sort of odd and vacant there that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Even with Jennifer. Nothing prurient, but nothing paternal either. Almost as though he was stuck at 9 years old and didn't know how to approach people socially except as playmates. Maybe nobody matched up to his obsession with his mother? Just thinking out loud, here. More food for thought than any novel I've read in a while, except for BLINDNESS. And some of the war scenes in ORPHANS reminded me of the sheer existential desperation of Saramago's characters. A high compliment. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (20 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 11:28 PM First I believed almost everything C said. Now I believe almost nothing. I'd bet he made up that scene where he spurned Sarah at that fancy dinner. Concocted it completely out of the air, revenge for the way she spurned him when he saw her in that tea room, and finally managed to convince himself it happened. I'll bet she never asked him to run away with her, either. Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (21 of 41), Read 51 times Conf: Reading List From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Thursday, November 15, 2001 11:34 PM Wow. Thank god for these discussions. I'm thinking I really missed the boat on my reading of this. That Christopher was delusional never really dawned on me, though I was less than satisfied with his explanations and actions. But I see it now. Wish I had time to reread--but it's back at the library. Now I'm vaguely uncomfortable, having been so drawn in by such an unbalanced character. I often naively take people at face value. Ishiguro did a masterful job. Anne
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (22 of 41), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 12:28 AM Don't forget he fooled me, too, Anne. And I'm a person that takes people at face value, too. Hmmm, do I sense something significant here? Mine's due at the library on the 19th, do you suppose I can squeeze a quick reread in? But what about the 3 other library books waiting in the TBR pile? I didn't like this book so awfully much when I finished it, and now that Ann pointed out the unreliable narrator I like it more and more. Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (23 of 41), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 02:17 AM Hey -- I didn't say I thought it WAS Akira -- just questioned the whole -- I'm totally lost as to what is reality, what is memory and what is this man's disconnected construction. THAT is the magic of the book -- and of Ishiguro's writing and I totally loved the backgrounds and felt transported in time and space -- the whole was so nearly seamless that it flew by and only Banks himself had the power to twitch the lead line from time to time -- "does he REALLY believe what he is saying ?" is a response that passed through my mind more than once. This is a fascinating book. Ruth, you and I are in the same quandary -- I have till the 23rd to get the bib book back but I am barely into the second one and the third is languishing. Think I'll wait and do this reread later and continue to savor the first impression of it yet awhile -- this was a BIG impression and since those are infrequent -- it deserves to percolate a while I believe. Something which I wonder about is the entanglement of the opium trade with the company for which Banks' father works -- and the parents relationship to each other, especially their personal relationship and their personal lives relative to this drug traffic. Is it only a coincidence that the mother is taken by this warlord and addicted to opium and lives the life she led -- or is there some tie to the underlying drug trade? OR -- is the whole thing again young Banks' mind disconnecting -- and is that later life of the mother spun out of something in his childhood which he is trying to explain or escape? So much to contemplate here. Dottie
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (24 of 41), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Karen Slongwhite kmbookworm@hotmail.com Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 03:28 PM It never occurred to me that the entire thing was one big delusion. It was clear to me that he had one gigantic blind spot in relationship to himself and relationships between people. The second half of the book was confusing to me because I was having a difficult time reconciling this image of this big detective solving cases with someone who could be so off base and lacking in observation in relationship to himself. I just now had a thought... Perhaps the solving of cases was a continuation of his playacting being a detective. I don't think he ever states that he was the one officially solving those cases. He says things like, "around the time the murder was solved", etc. He may have actually studied these cases and come up with theories, but not have been on the case officially. Perhaps his trip to Shanghai was his first actual attempt at a case. As I read, my original feeling towards him was that he was a rather pompous, self-involved jerk. I thought this before he went to Shanghai, but it got so much worse once he was there. He seemed to actually believe that finding his parents would stop the war. In some ways, whatever view of ourselves that we have, we are self-delusional. It is always interesting to me when someone drops a line that reveals what they really think about me. A couple of years ago, a woman I went to high school with told me she saw me as being self-sufficient, confident, and not really caring what other people's opinions of me are. Recently a woman I go to church with expressed surprise that I don't own a car and haven't for two years because, "You are so independent." Both of these expressions were kind of a surprise to me, because I don't really see myself in this way. Ever since they told me these things, I try to sort of self observe in social situations to see why I project that image because it isn't exactly what I want to project (at least not at the levels these two woman were expressing). I think all of us have some sense of what image we project and how people view us, even if it is only on a gut level and not something we could articulate or that anyone has ever said to us. But Christopher doesn't have this sense. He believes that everyone sees him exactly as he sees himself and that everyone is just as interested in him and his issues as he is. Clearly, this isn't the case! As I was reading the book, I saw Christopher as representing the greater culture of the International Settlement. They were so separated from life around them in China and the world. They were having parties and watching the bombs fall on the area around them, believing it wouldn't touch them. And even before the war, they had to delude themselves about the actions of the companies they were working for in terms of the opium trade. Again, we all are delusional in this way. Some of us more than others (witness the brochure on how 'American Universities are failing the nation' under the Academic Flambe topic in the Salon). We see what we want to see; what we can deal with emotionally. We look at what we can't entirely deal with and create stories so these things can make some sort of sense to us (see the Lies My Teacher Told Me thread in Constant Reader). This book kind of pulled all these things together for me in light of recent events and my own personal recent reading and extra curricular activities. As I read this book, the only part I felt was unreliable was the part in Shanghai. Now I need to go back and reread with the thought that perhaps the entire thing is unreliable. Hopefully, I'll have time to do that before this thread ends :-) Another thing I just thought of -- how often do we come to a point in our lives and realize that we've been dealing with someone or something unreliable and wonder where it all began to be unreliable and why we didn't notice it before this?! I will say for myself that was certainly my own experience with my marriage. At what point did he start lying? Or was he so self-delusional that he believed he was telling the truth? Personally, I haven't figured it out, but have gotten to the point where I don't feel compelled to understand it. But I am left with this feeling of uncertainty -- just how much of those seven years that I was involved with him really means what I think it means, or goes with the story I have in my mind and how much of it is my own self delusion? Just before I started typing the above paragraph, I had another thought, but it has dissolved while I was typing the paragraph. But this post is already long enough anyway :-) Karen
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (25 of 41), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 04:13 PM Karen: I really enjoyed your post. Once when I was growing up I read somewhere the piece of advice, "Never compare your insides to everbody else's outsides." A lot of wisdom there and I've tried to follow it over the years, but as you say there's invariably going to be a disconnect, sometimes huge, between our self-image and the way we're really perceived. I'm guessing this is a very, very touchy area of our psyches, hence one reason a story like ORPHANS snares us, as it does, at some deep level. Like Anne, I took Christopher pretty much at his word through most of the story. An odd duck, but I kind of liked him and thought I could sense a vulnerability under that pompousness. It wasn't until the trip to Shanghai that things started getting way too weird for me to compute, and I knew that I must have missed something along the way. In hindsight, I'm amazed at how many possible clues I had glossed over. One was the expression that Christopher used almost like a mantra: "I'm a little hazy on this particularly memory, but..." And then the scene he renders is not hazy at all, but told in great detail, just...odd. Currently I'm having to deal with (or not deal with; long story) a family member with an illness that sometimes peaks in bouts of delusion, and I'm not very good at it. No matter how illogical or absurd some of the claims are, it's human nature to actively want to believe the person because he/she seems so convinced. Makes me realize what a malleable territory the brain is, and it's frightening. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (26 of 41), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Karen Slongwhite kmbookworm@hotmail.com Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 04:25 PM Dale -- When you said that about the memory always being hazy, it kicked in the other thing I couldn't remember at the end of my last post. Everything in this book is being told about the past. We never here it in the present. It is always looking back and processing the event. The reason I didn't see delusion prior to the arrival in Shanghai was that I saw him as looking back and telling a story as he had developed it over time. All of us and and subtract details, consciously or not, when we think about our past. I thought the inconsistencies I saw were simply caused by the time that had passed between his experiences and when he was recording them. Karen
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (27 of 41), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Karen Slongwhite kmbookworm@hotmail.com Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 04:29 PM I also saw this looking back and recording as indicative of Christopher's inability to comprehend what was going on in his own life. He had to look back in order to understand. He couldn't see what was going on right in front of his face. Karen
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (28 of 41), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 07:33 PM Very interesting notes, Karen. I was looking for signs of an unstable narrator from the start because I read some reviews of this book when it first came out. I didn't remember much from the reviews, except the idea that the narrator was not completely trustworthy. As a result, I was looking for signs from the start, and they are planted throughout the book. I never bought the idea that Christopher was a great detective any place other than in his own mind. This theme of self-delusion is central to Ishiguro's books. I had already read THE REMAINS OF THE DAY a few years ago, but after reading WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS, I decided to read Ishiguro's ARTIST OF THE FLOATING. WORLD. The main character in the latter book is a Japanese artist who created propaganda paintings before and during the Second World War. He is not mentally disturbed - like I believe Christopher is- but he also excels at seeing himself as a much more powerful and important figure than he really is. One difference in that book is that he is forced to confront the truth about himself in the end. These books certainly make me wonder about the lies I tell myself. Your experiences about projecting a different image than you experience inside are very interesting, Karen. The perceptions of those other people certainly aren't negative, however. I had to feel a great deal of sympathy for Christopher. Think of it: to lose both your parents, your only good friend, and then be sent to what was, for you, a foreign country. That alone would have been terrible enough, but then he was forced to attend one of those dreadful British boarding schools, which seem to me like a kind of upper class child abuse. The most affecting part of the novel for me were the scenes when he mistakenly thinks he has found his great friend Akira again. How lonely he must have been all those years.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (29 of 41), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, November 16, 2001 08:23 PM I loved ARTIST OF A FLOATING WORLD, Ann. I think precisely because the narrator was more stable, and therefore forced to confront things. This afternoon I started Orphans all over again. I think this detective stuff is a case of arrested development. C's life was turned upside down right at the age when he was idolizing the idea of a detective as Superman, capable of anything, fighter of all evil, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. And he never grew beyond that stage. Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (30 of 41), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Saturday, November 17, 2001 07:38 AM I have been thinking about this book a whole lot. I don't really want to go and reread it so soon (especially since I'm in the middle of the Harry Potter series). One of the things I really wish was that we could talk to Ishiguro. I want to ask him about Christopher Banks and which parts of his narrative were real and which weren't. I bet he would answer the way Tim O'Brien answered when asked if the man really killed his wife in In the Lake of the Woods. And that was "I don't know." Some of Banks' narrative had to be "true" (if anything can be true in the middle of fiction) since we picked up on the inconsistencies. If the narrator were a glib liar and trying to fool us, he wouldn't leave little clues like having his former school-mate feel sorry for him. Or have the captain of the boat think he was a miserable little chap. I believed a lot more of Christopher's story than the rest of you, but there was one big question than no one else has mentioned. Was the woman he found really his mother? I thought it was strange that he didn't want to tell the sisters who he was. All we had to go on was that she seemed to know who "Puffin" was. Maybe he made that up. He needed an end to the story; maybe he gathered enough "evidence" to create his own ending. Sherry
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (31 of 41), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, November 17, 2001 10:40 AM Sherry, I think you've hit the nail on the head. How much of Christopher's story is "true" and how much was "invented" to fulfill Christopher's psychological needs? I believe that Ishiguro wanted to leave the reader with that unresolved question. My guess is that he is very pleased that readers interpret it so differently. I am a natural skeptic, so I tended to disbelieve more than others, but I am well aware that it can be equally valid to accept much more of the story on its face value than I did. The author's ambiguity is what makes this novel so interesting, but at the same time it leaves me feeling somewhat frustrated. I'm weak. I usually like those loose ends tied up. Do I believe that the old woman at the end was Puffin's mother ? Perhaps. But that scene reminded me of some visits to my own mother, who also suffered from senile dementia. Such a person more often responds to the tone of your voice and your demeanor than the words you are saying. They have lost the ability to process meaning. Her visitor obviously expected some response from her before he would leave, so she may just have responded to that need so he would go away. Also, Christopher never told the nuns at the rest home who he was. I believe that he did not want to investigate the identity of this woman too carefully. Isn't it sad that he had such a strong need for forgiveness? Small children so often feel that they are the cause of a parent's disappearance. This feeling most have tormented him throughout his life.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (32 of 41), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: William Hayes whayes43@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 12:15 PM What wonderful reflections on this book. I, myself, saw CB as the middle class twit equivalent of the loyal butler in REMAINS OF THE DAY. The ethical stance for both of their lives are neatly summed up in the words of British philosopher F H Bradley: "my station and its duty." Frightening. I like KI's comment that he writes from the place "where we all live -- in a bit of a fog."
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (33 of 41), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 03:38 PM William: Ishiguro's comment about us all "living in a bit of a fog" resonated with me, too. Glad to know I'm not in that fog alone.{G} That said, there was one revelation late in the story that I had no doubt about, credibility-wise...the fact that Uncle Phillip had the hots for Christopher's mom the whole time, in the "good old days." That was so evident to me that I wondered to what extent, if any, his feelings were returned. The story of her eventual fate was so nightmarish I don't know if I buy it (and Phillip's motivations toward same, for that matter) or not. But it's a hell of a story. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (34 of 41), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 03:59 PM William -- that is a great quote from Ishiguro -- I still haven't made my way to reading the info linked -- BUT funniest thing, Dale -- as I opened this thread to see the new posts I thought -- if the mother's story is true then perhaps the whole of it was played out earlier to some degree -- the parents and this "Uncle" who seems to have outlasted others who passed through their lives and due in part to the role he played BETWEEN the parents -- I suddenly thought maybe all this was apparent to the child CB and that led to the insecure and disconnected manner in which he led his life thereafter -- as I say -- one day this one will pull me back in -- it is just too full of questions after the fact to be left alone{G}. What a convoluted tale! And you know -- the father was aware of the drugs flowing -- maybe he was MORE than aware of it -- maybe he wasn't just winking and nodding but was directly and actively involved. So much was going on around the child and then wham -- it all shifted. Dottie "You can't say poetry should be about something or shouldn't be about something. Poems are, the poem is, and that's all there is to it." Alan Dugan, two time winner of the NBA, Poetry
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (35 of 41), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 04:40 PM Dale, I had exactly the same feeling about the relationship of the mother and the "uncle." Dottie, since Ann yanked the rug out from under my faithful acceptance of things as presented, I've not been sure of those drugs at all. Seems to me the kid was pretty young to be aware of the drug stuff, especially living as sheltered as he was in that European compound. I've been wondering if CB didn't just put all this together as another of his delusional fantasies, combining his childhood ideas of intrigue and the detective, and his idealization of his mother, with what he later learned about the drug traffic in China at that time. Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (36 of 41), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 05:05 PM Ruth, Strangely :), the involvement of the father's company with the opium trade was one thing I didn't doubt. The English were notorious for their promotion of the opium trade in China during the 19th century. Between 1839-42, they even fought a war with the Chinese government when it tried to stop the British merchants from importing opium. This story is set much later, but I assumed the opium business was a sideline of the trading company Christopher's father worked for. I couldn't imagine him working for a company whose main purpose was the opium trade, but, as with most of this story, that is certainly open to interpretation. Dale, excellent observations about "Uncle" Phillip. Ann
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (37 of 41), Read 17 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 09:13 PM I have very much enjoyed these notes. I wanted to mention that much of the narration isn't about the far past. If you notice the dates of the various sections of the book, the passages are written right after something important happens. The thing that happens brings up CB's childhood, but CB seems to be recording what happened in his journal a few hours after it happened. I am also wondering about the title, WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS. It implies that "we" are no longer orphans. So I kept waiting for CB to find his parents, so that he would no longer be an orphan. Jane
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (38 of 41), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: William Hayes whayes43@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 09:14 PM Here's another point of view. The questions that many have asked about CB (Is he or isn't he? Did he or didn't he?) have arisen naturally out of the book. They are questions posed for us by KI the artist. They take as their premise that the most important function of art is subjective and the most important values are spiritual in nature: individualism and idealism. There are, however, other questions that arise naturally out of the book. These other questions are posed for us by KI the teacher. They take as their premise that the most important function of art is objective and the most important values are material in nature: collectivism and realism. Many have used the word "surreal" in talking of CB and his interior life in the face of what (we know) was really happening around him in the world of the 1930s. Certainly his world view, individualist and idealist, was not just unreal but tragically unreal. However, this conclusion of unreality is not one that KI invites us to make just about CB himself. KI invites us to make an indictment of tragic unreality about individualism and idealism writ large as these values manifest themselves in whole social classes and indeed in whole nations, then and now.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (39 of 41), Read 11 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Sunday, November 18, 2001 09:36 PM Jane: I hadn't thought about the significance of the title since very early in my reading of the book, when I presumed the "we" referred to Christopher and Sarah, who both were orphans. Later, the orphaned Jennifer comes into the picture. So the "we" becomes a lot more inclusive, but what the heck are we to make of the "were"? Ishiguro is such an intelligent and painstaking writer it's hard for me to imagine that the title isn't somehow relevant to the outcome of all these characters' linked stories. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (40 of 41), Read 9 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Monday, November 19, 2001 02:17 AM William -- a very sobering analysis -- especially in light of world events of late. I will have to do some thinking on your ideas. Dottie "You can't say poetry should be about something or shouldn't be about something. Poems are, the poem is, and that's all there is to it." Alan Dugan, two time winner of the NBA, Poetry
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (41 of 41), Read 8 times Conf: Reading List From: Theresa Simpson theresa.a.simpson@gte.net Date: Monday, November 19, 2001 03:42 AM It's been quite a while since I read this, so it's a all a bit hazy. But as for the title, I think it's a reference to the make believe games the narrator and his childhood friend paly ( you know, let's be cowboys; now let's be orphans). This would tie into the unreliable narrator theme. The detective bit is about joisting, rather shadow-boxing, with the truth. And the narrator doesn't fit in in England (we're given ample clues that he was an outcast at school), because he is an outsider, despite his outward appearance of conformity. He is the inverse of Ishiguro, who came to England at about age 3 or 4 - and speaks, behaves very much the Englishman. But no doubt did not "fit in" at school due to his appearance. And no doubt would also have trouble moving back to Japan - which I've heard is not altogether welcoming of Japanese who have spent years abroad. Theresa I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused. Elvis Costello
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (42 of 44), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2001 03:55 PM I am willing to believe that Christopher's story is credible until Sara married Sir Cecil and moves off to Shanghai (not the more famous Shanghi in Alabama, of course, but the one in China). Was it his inability to attract the beautiful Sara that sent him over the edge? He was sure at first that he only had to become famous in order to acquire her favors. But he is a bit of a cold fish. Of course, I'm not sure where he goes off the deep end. That's the problem, and the fun with an imperfect narrator, anything is possible. The trip to Shanghai, I feel, is either part of a mental breakdown or even those types of a dream that come from an opium pipe. Nothing I can think of supports this, except for the incessant talk of the opium trade. But there are descriptions in literature, Hammet's books for instance, that are very similar. He seems a different, more rational person, when he meets Uncle Philip. Was this real and did he actually travel to Shanghai? Again, I'm not sure; but old Uncle Philip does have some logical answers. The father took off, plain and simple. Not too dramatic, but a too common occurrence. The mother being kidnapped and nobody doing anything about it seem a bit too much. But this is all necessary in order to provide a background for Puffin finding his mother in China. Assuming she was his mother. Mother or not, discovering her, puts a finis to Christopher's search. The girl, Jenny, is a bit of a puzzle. She does add another orphan to the story. Do we have a surfeit of orphans? But why? Old Christopher doesn't seem to have any lust going. Maybe he is just compassionate for another fellow orphan. But sending her off to a boarding school doesn't seem to me to improve her situation. Wasn't this common with the British upper class? Nobody went to a real school where common people sent their kids. In fact, why didn't Christopher get sent back to England for his education? Overall, I thought this an enjoyable read. The dialogue seemed to fit the period and my idea of how the English sophisticates would talk. While the opium trade was denigrated in the book, wasn't there a legal trade going on? Is the trade Ishiguro speaks of only the illegal portion of the trade? And on a lighter note, isn't Christoper Banks a department store chain or a line of men's clothes? EDD "The old man sat alone in the shadow of the Dragon's Teeth and watched the coming darkness chase the daylight west." THE SCIONS OF SHANNARA by Terry Brooks.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (43 of 44), Read 17 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2001 04:10 PM Edd: I enjoyed your note. Thanks for plugging the "other" Shanghai...{G} I thought the name Christopher Banks sounded familiar but I couldn't quite place it. An internet search shows a women's clothier named Christopher & Banks, and its big-and-tall line sells as C.J. Banks. >>Dale, 35 miles southeast of Shanghi, Ala.
Topic: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (44 of 44), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2001 04:11 PM Good thought on Jennie, Edd. Come to think of it what is she doing there? It didn't seem as if he had really much interest in her. And am I dreaming, or wasn't there a reference to "the woman who became my wife" someplace in the first half of the book. I know I kept waiting for the wife to show up. Ruth Ruth Chi mangia bene, mangia Italiano
Topic: When We Were Orphans con't. (1 of 4), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Kay Dugan okaychatt@yahoo.com Date: Friday, March 01, 2002 01:48 PM I finished the book yesterday and am wishing I had found the time to read it for the discussion. I hope some of you are up for a bit more. The questions of Jennifer and the title were two of the last points discussed. It seems to me that Jennifer is the self-possessed child Banks always thought himself to be. She fulfills that need for him. She is able to put the pieces together again, just as Banks wants to do. She provides his security and encouragement. Most significantly, Christopher writes of her, after she has grown, "...she was still tending to regard me as some sort of invalid, especially whenever the past, or else the Far East, re-emerged in my life." Here, finally, is someone who has stayed around long enough to provide some consistency and security for him. I think Jennifer was his own creation, set up to be a kind of resource for him to draw on for facing events. She's a child, but seems to have come to terms with the reality of her situation, even while still mourning her parents. Banks is particularly moved when she says, "When you're at school, sometimes, you forget. Just sometimes. You count the days until the holidays like the other girls do, and then you think you'll see Mother and Papa again." Christopher writes, "Even in these circumstances, it still came as a surprise to hear her mention her parents. I waited for her to say more but she did not; she simply gazed up at me as though she had just put to me a question." Is Jennifer asking for support or giving it? She seems wise beyond her years. Her need for remembering strikes a chord with Banks, I think, especially since she seems to have moved on in spite of her grief. Christopher has not been able to do that. Banks is up front about his need to resolve his childhood loss with his adult life. The memoir is a means of achieving that. How much is fantasy and how much is real is irrelevant. By the end of the book, he is satisfied with his story. Whether the reader is or not, isn't really important, I don't think. The book is about how all adults are orphans from the foreign land of their childhoods. That's the world where no one gets hurt or disappears. It's where we live when all is right with the world. "The colonel nodded. "Our childhood seems so far away now. All this" - he gestured out of the vehicle - "so much suffering. One of our Japanese poets, ........wrote of how sad this was. She wrote of how our childhood becomes like a foreign land once we have grown." Is this a parallel to the International Village in Shanghai? "Well, Colonel, it's hardly a foreign land to me. In many ways, it's where I've continued to live all my life. It's only now I've started to make my journey from it." Christopher is well aware of what his task is. I think in some ways, we are all orphans as adults. We each have feelings of guilt and yearning for what was, or could have been. Banks' guilt needs forgiveness from his mother for not having found her sooner. He was so young at the time of her loss, but he held himself responsible for having left her at home alone. "Supposing this boy of yours, this Puffin. Supposing you discovered he'd tried his best, tried with everything he had to find you, even if in the end he couldn't. If you knew that, do you suppose.....do you suppose you'd be able to forgive him?" The poignancy of that question makes my heart ache. The title is for all of us. We are all orphans from childhood at some point in our lives. Sometimes we cope and move on, by whatever means, and sometimes we are permanently stunted by our loss. Phrasing the title in the past tense indicates Christopher has finally come to terms and has moved on. Banks is taking care of himself by creating the fantasy of his search. He invents characters, most of whom are also lost in some way, to work his way to an acceptable resolution. I say, "more power to him." K
Topic: When We Were Orphans con't. (2 of 4), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Friday, March 01, 2002 03:22 PM Kay -- what a wonderful post on this -- and it really struck a very deep chord with me. I was looking for my Girl With A Pearl Earring the other day -- again -- still haven't figured out where it vanished to -- but When We Were Orphans didn't want me to put it down -- and I fanned through it and looked at it a bit. The story haunts me -- and I might go scan a bit. but to begin -- I repeat that I enjoyed your analysis here -- and think you are onto something about how CB drew the tale in order to meet his own needs for the loss of his childhood -- whether or not, as you point out the tale is accurate matters only to himself. Dottie The stream of time is carrying us forward; we live between yesterday and tomorrow. Lin Yutang
Topic: When We Were Orphans con't. (3 of 4), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, March 01, 2002 07:48 PM I echo Dottie, Kay. Great analysis. I like the idea of the universal theme "all adults are orphans from the foreign land of their childhoods." It really pulls the book together for me. Ruth "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, then you do it for money." Moliere
Topic: When We Were Orphans con't. (4 of 4), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Kay Dugan okaychatt@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, March 02, 2002 09:46 AM Thanks. When I step back even further, the story seems exactly like the pretend games Akira and Christopher played - all sorts of magical jumps and twists to make the play acting fit their needs. That aspect alerted us to the surreal quality of his "memoir." One of the most poignant scenes for me was when his chums gave him a magnifying glass. They meant it as a joke, but Christopher latched onto it immediately. It's interesting how that glass kept appearing in his cases. In effect, he's putting his childhood under the microscope. I was intrigued by how he would spend hours in some deserted spot, absorbed in his investigation with that magnifying glass. Then, he would miraculously pop up and solve a case that had totally stymied the experts. That has the ring of fantasy. No details. No explanation of the logic. But, by George, he'd solved the case. This book haunts me too, Dottie. I ache for that child and root for his attempts to grow up and move on. How similar is REMAINS OF THE DAY? Someone mentioned the narrator there was also unreliable, though he is forced to come to terms with the discrepancies. Somehow, I hope Christopher isn't forced to. He seems like such a fragile person. K

 
Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro

 
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