Wednesday, August 13, 2014
When We Were Orphans
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, When We Were Orphans revolves around a lost childhood. Critics have been harsh with the novel and Ishiguro himself has stated that When We Were Orphans is definitely not one of his best works. The protagonist, Christopher Banks is a famed private detective in the 1930’s London. He is a recognized name among the upper crust of the British society. (The British society as we know is strictly rigid with its class). The novel, in the usual Ishiguro style, follows the recollection of memory pattern. Using the first person narrative style, Christopher tells the story of his childhood in Shanghai in the International Settlement and provides the background of his becoming a private detective in the first place. In the typical Ishiguro ‘stream of consciousness’ method, he moves on from one incident to the other in young Christopher’s life in Shanghai. He recollects his childhood home in Shanghai, his parents, his Chinese nanny, his next door Japanese neighbor, Akira who was his best friend. Ishiguro brilliantly pieces the recollection, stringing them with a present memory, which is a trigger for Christopher to recall these past events in the first place.
But Christopher is an unreliable narrator and some of his stories are full of inconsistencies and distortions. As the story unfolds, the readers get to know his motivation becoming a detective – his parents’ disappearance in Shanghai when he was a young boy. It might be because he was a child, that too with an active imagination that his recollection is unreliable. As an adult, Christopher often lives under the shadow of the unsolved mystery of his parents’ disappearance and questions his reputation and worth as a detective.
But years later, when he hears from an acquaintance from his that they are moving to Shanghai, he decides to go back and finally work on the case of his parents. The ending is shocking for both Christopher and the readers; there is no grand revelation but a bitter truth to be experienced by both parties. Ishiguro is ever so polite in his narration that it can get a little tedious. The theme revolve around nostalgia and passage of time. It cannot be termed as a detective novel in the classic sense of the word, but it is detective’s story, investigating his past. Set during the times of the Second World War, it is a story of grisly wartime killings, kidnappings, enslavement, adultery. It is a slow book, but then most of Ishiguro’s books are but I don’t think it deserved the harsh criticism that it did. The ending might not have been a fantastic one like that of a pulpy detective novel, but it was gruesome enough to numb your senses.