Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats
Monday, December 27, 2010
"When We Were Orphans" by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro is freaking BRILLIANT. I may be the last person in the world to have figured that out, but that doesn't make it any less true.
After the last couple of stinkers, I decided it was time to choose a book I'd been promised was excellent. I'm elated to report I was not a bit disappointed. It's about time I came across another Must Read.
Ishiguro writes the story of Christopher Banks, an Englishman who spent much of his childhood in early twentieth century Shanghai but was then sent to England as an orphan at the age of nine. It's been his lifelong dream to become a detective, and once he reaches this goal he travels back to China to determine what really happened to his parents.
Banks is an adult as he tells the story, but important childhood events in Shanghai are woven into the narrative as memories, made all the more real by their elusive and possibly unreliable nature. He readily admits that his perceptions may very well differ from reality, but his perceptions are, after all, what his memories are composed of. After he returns to China, it becomes evident that it's not only his impressions of the past that may be unreliable; his obsessive qualities taint even his grasp of the present.
Ishiguro's choice of words is so precise. Do you ever find yourself mentally editing as you read, thinking you would have used a different word or phrase? I didn't do that with Ishiguro. His prose is subtle but beautifully descriptive, with an elegant simplicity that belies the deft and clever writing. Ishiguro never seems to be trying too hard, but he doesn't have to.
Of course, no part of this book was boring. But the way the tension subtly built, I reached a point where I had to stop my eyes from racing ahead. I tried to force myself to read slowly, to savor the story. When I noticed I only had about thirty pages remaining, I actually put the book down and stopped reading for a bit to prolong the inevitable and avoid finishing the book too soon.
Allow me to pause mid-gush and concede that this novel isn't perfect. The resolution of the mystery was a little bit Scooby Doo. (Maybe there weren't any meddling kids, and no one had a mask pulled off, but there was a sort of "it was you all along!" vibe.) But don't let that deter you in any way from reading this book. You know you thought Scooby was awesome when you were little, too.
Even with my criticism, I was surprised to read on wikipedia that this is "considered one of Ishiguro's weakest works, with Ishiguro himself saying, 'It's not my best book.'" That's actually kind of encouraging for me, though. If this is not his best, I can only imagine how good some of his others must be.
I'm here to tell you it's time to move Kazuo Ishiguro to the top of your TBR pile. I already have The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go on my wish list, but I won't need much of an excuse to add more.