Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “When We Were Orphans” as Want to Read:
When We Were Orphans
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

When We Were Orphans

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  16,359 Ratings  ·  1,557 Reviews
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 garn
...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about When We Were Orphans, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Karim Eltawansy
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
William1
Mar 24, 2011 William1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 20-ce, uk
Second reading. Ishiguro's novels are nothing if not enigmatic. There's disorientation; the reader is never quite sure where he stands. When We Were Orphans is a quasi-Bildungsroman or coming of age/detective story. It is set over a period of fifty years or so in London, Shanghai and then back in London again.

Narrator Christopher Banks is born of English parents with whom he lives in the International Concession in Shanghai. Around 1915 or so they disappear, when he is about nine, and are believ
...more
Bookdragon Sean
“On the contrary, it is never too late to, as you put it, pick up the scent”

Indeed, it most certainly isn’t. This book was so, so, deep. I feel like my emotions have been stretched to breaking point when reading. If you’ve not ready any of Ishiguro’s novels before, then don’t be deceived, this is no mere crime novel: this is an exploration of the human soul.

Ishiguro has written such a powerful novel here. In the process of questioning the fleeting nature of the past, the fickleness of the hu
...more
Libby
Jan 28, 2009 Libby rated it really liked it
Shelves: thesis-book-list
Many reviews here have commented on Ishiguro's unreliable narrators (let's let that classification stand, whether or not it is entirely valid or really applies to all of his work), as if this aspect of his fiction is so obvious, or that it has been so exhaustively mined, that there is little to nothing left to say about such a narrative strategy.

Christopher Banks, When We Were Orphans' narrator, is certainly unreliable, yes. But our relationship to him as an unreliable narrator is a strange one,
...more
Will Byrnes
A pretty good novel. I thought it was outstanding until the back quarter. Renowned London detective Christopher Banks was raised in the International part of Shanghai, sent to England after both his parents disappeared. He is smitten with a social climbing siren who figures in his adventure when he returns to Shanghai intent on solving the mystery of his parents’ disappearance. Of course the Sino-Japanese war, two decades of change in Shanghai, and a chance to run away with the girl of his dream ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 28, 2009 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Booker Shortlist 2000
This is my 7th Ishiguro and I am happy for two reasons: (1) I am now an Ishiguro completist and (2) unlike a couple of his earlier books, I actually liked this one. I almost rated this with 4 stars but I could not do that because I found the first half of the book unbelievably boring. However, Ishiguro managed to make the book’s last 50-70 pages truly engaging that I thought I was able to squirt some tears from my eyes when the boyhood friends were back together. It was one of the most poignant ...more
Bec
Jul 12, 2007 Bec rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sara
Oct 09, 2016 Sara rated it really liked it
Kazuo Ishiguro’s enigmatic novel, When We Were Orphans, is as complex and baffling a work of fiction as I have ever encountered. Christopher Banks, our narrator, is not so much an unreliable narrator as a naive narrator who believes in the internal world he has created and acts upon it as if it were truth. Through so much of the novel I kept asking myself why he could not see the illogical conclusions he was drawing, but of course that is what this novel is about, his inability to leave his chil ...more
Seth T.
Jul 14, 2008 Seth T. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When We Were Orphans was, for me, a pretty fascinating exploration of the difficulties typical to the lens of overgrown sentimentailty through which one approaches the vaguely remembered past. As the narration continues, one wonders just how ephemerally Christopher Banks, the narrator, holds his grasp on reality. Quite clearly his recollections of the distant past are modified to fit his circumstances and the man he's become—and paradoxically, the man he's become is a debt owed to these remember ...more
Pantelis
Oct 16, 2016 Pantelis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This escapade is a trap. It promises old-fashioned entertainment ( a mastermind sleuth in a special mission in Shangai during the 1937 Japanese invasion!), it promises parental comfort but all it delivers is postmodern disquiet and an orphan's sense of absence and permanent loss.
I really enjoyed it and recommend it to all angst aficionados.
Blair
The first thing I noticed about this book was that the narrative voice - belonging to Christopher Banks, a successful detective in 1930s England - is remarkably similar to that of Stevens, the protagonist of Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. While at first this drew me in (I loved The Remains of the Day), I soon began to find it offputting. I had assumed Stevens' voice was unique, so it was a bit of a disappointment to find that what I assumed were facets of that character are actually features ...more
Dave
Sep 30, 2007 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-shelf
I'm happy to say that I've only been disappointed once by a Kazuo Ishiguro book. "Never Let Me Go" is one of the best things I've ever read, and "When We Were Orphans" isn't far behind.

Christopher Banks overcomes a tragic childhood, it seems, to become the preeiminent detective in Great Britain. This allows him access to the country's elite social circles, but it's clear there are precious few people around whom Christopher is really comfortable. As a child, these people were his parents, famil
...more
Judith
Aug 25, 2011 Judith rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I listened to audio version of this book and kept thinking I was missing chapters or I had somehow obtained the abridged version because the plot wasn't making any sense. So mid-way through the audio, I got the book and read it, and then started reading it again, NOT because I liked it, but because I have never read such a strangely constructed work of fiction.

I am still at a loss. Was this a satire on British Imperialism? Was it meant to be a fantasy? I kept thinking there was going to be one
...more
Barry Pierce
Eh, this isn't great. I enjoyed maybe the first 50ish pages but once the plot actually begins it just becomes a mess. It gets the extra star because I enjoyed those 50 pages. Even Ishiguro himself thinks this is a weak novel. It's overall poor.
Lydia
Nov 18, 2007 Lydia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
WARNING! SPOILERS
I'm not sure what to say about this book. It read like a well-written parody of a children's detective story, but, for me, ultimately failed to climb high enough above that to let me take it seriously. Since we are never sure how much we can believe our narrator, it is difficult to know how to feel. ANd we are presented with an awful lot of material that can invoke strong feeling.

The very notion that Christopher Banks is searching for his long lost parents so many years later i
...more
Kay
Oct 14, 2007 Kay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've been putting off this review for a few weeks, hoping that something inchoate in me would gell, which would make me happier than it being something incoherent in Ishiguro's writing that didn't gell.

Nothing gelled.

I'll try not to write spoilers, although as I have no idea what the denouement of this book is (let alone what it might 'mean') it would be hard difficult for me to know if I did - however, the strands of the story are:

- that the narrator is an expatriate of Shanghai, both of whose
...more
Hugh
This book is something of a weird trip. At first we are in similar territory to The Remains of the Day, in 1920s London, where we find the narrator as a young man making a name for himself as a detective, who has come to England from Shanghai after his parents disappeared. Then we move to Shanghai in 1937, where things gradually get messier and more surreal and develop into a Kafkaesque thrillerish nightmare set in a war zone as the narrator tries to resolve the story of his parents. This sectio ...more
Ivonne Rovira
Dec 22, 2014 Ivonne Rovira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
English boy Christopher Banks lives in the foreigners’ compound in Shanghai shortly after 1900; what pays for this splendor is Banks’ father’s position with Morganbrook and Byatt, which traffics in opium, which pains Banks’ mother to the point that she joins an anti-opium crusade. When Christopher is just 10 years old, his parents both disappear within weeks of one another.

Were their disappearances due to the corrupt opium business, or to Mrs. Banks’ genteel anti-opium efforts? Young Christophe
...more
Fabian
Nov 25, 2011 Fabian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two previous flawless books; expectations were rather high, see. "A Pale View of Hills" is an essential novel to all lovers of books and history and novellas, & "Never Let Me Go" is an instant modern classic (genre splicing done EXACTLY right). This, on the other hand, is B O R I N G....! (This, granted, coming from a fan of all books long and boring.)

A detective's life should certainly include many peaks, scenes of action, excitement aplenty. Ishiguro decides to keep all this away though, a
...more
Rebecca McNutt
When We Were Orphans is an impressive and unforgettable mystery novel, taking readers on a journey to reunite a man with his missing parent.
Nikki
I keep starting Ishiguro's books not being quite sure about them -- with people telling me that I won't like them for x and y reasons, or with trepidation born from the wide spread of reviews they get. But there's something about Ishiguro's measured, calm prose that always draws me in. It gives a similarity to all his narrators, but it usually works well with the character he chooses to narrate.

(You may consider the rest of this review spoilery, because while I don't reveal major plot twists, I
...more
Jeff Jackson
May 24, 2011 Jeff Jackson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
-After the Kafkaesque world of The Unconsoled, Ishiguro's next book finds him retreating to a midway point between that brilliantly disorienting behomoth and the controlled narrative circumlocutions of Remains of the Day.

-In many instances, he successfully harnesses the dislocations and telescoping of the Unconsoled in the service of a plot that's more grounded in so-called reality. In this case, it's a detective story about an Englishman returning to Shanghai, trying to find his parents who di
...more
Megan
This is my second book by Kazuo Ishiguro (The first being Never Let Me Go) Once again, I love his writing style and his incredibly complex and flawed characters. In When We Were Orphans, Ishiguro presented a narrator who while reliable, apparently views events and situations (especially those close to him) quite differently than others. The writing and character development are undoubtedly Ishiguro’s strengths in this novel.

Protagonist Christopher Banks is a wonderfully flawed and curious man w
...more
Dolors
Maybe not his best work, but reading his prose is always a treat, it's smooth like velvet.
Then, I loved the characters, Mr. Banks, the haunted detective searching for his lost parents in Shangai (he is a bit lost and weak sometimes, okay I admit it), but then, Sarah Hemmings ! Wow, what a heroine, she was really the best, the ambitious woman, the one everybody desires, mysterious, interesting, smart...and a bit sneaky. The perfect character for a gangsterish plot like this one.
Of course, the bo
...more
Mike
Dec 04, 2007 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful novel set in Shanghai between the world wars. Kind of got lost in the shuffle amidst the acknowledged classic The Remains of the Day, the great psycho monolith The Unconsoled, and the mildly overrated science fiction Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro is the contemporary master of the unreliable narrator and this is his darkest and most relevant novel.
Darnia
Oct 29, 2016 Darnia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, 2016
3,5/5 bintang

Ishiguro ini, meskipun masuk jajaran pujangga Inggris, namun karyanya masih menyiratkan ciri khas sastra Jepang yg (IMO) ibarat batang pada pohon anggur yg tidak dipangkas. Anggap saja batangnya adalah tema utama, sedangkan daun, sulur, calon buah dan sebagainya yg menghiasi batangnya adalah penjabaran lain yg sedikit banyak terkait dengan tema utama (ini analoginya pas gak sih?). Dua kali gw baca Ishiguro, hal-hal semacam itu selalu terjadi, pun di dalam novel ini.

Batang atau tema
...more
Maria Thomarey
Dec 08, 2015 Maria Thomarey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4,5 το αγαπημένο μου από αυτόν τον συγγραφέα
Ana  Vlădescu
4.5 stars, and I would have loved to give it a full, loving, fat 5, but I couldn't.

I loved this book. First thing that attracted me to it was the title. For me it has a special resonance and I really longed to see what could be between the pages of such a greatly named book. I realized from the first page it wouldn't be what I expected (I'm not sure why I thought it would be about a girl), but as I flipped through it I got more and more sucked in its world. It is stunning.

Let me make it clear
...more
Cateline
Dec 06, 2014 Cateline rated it it was amazing
When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

To live a life that counts, to accomplish what others have been unable to manage. Our protagonist, Christopher Banks, lives his first 9 years in a kind of golden glow. When both parents, over the course of a few months, disappear from the International Settlement in Shanghai he is returned to England.

Later in life he makes a success of himself, but yearns to solve the mystery of his Mother and Father's (assumed) kidnapping. Do they still live? What really h
...more
Yulia
Sep 05, 2011 Yulia rated it it was amazing
I feel very conflicted about this novel. I was completely absorbed while reading it, though annoyed by an overly dramatic section 4/5th through and unsettled by the ending, but I think it may be a book I'll grow to be fonder of, once my uneasiness wears off. It certainly makes me wish to try another work of his. I suppose it succeeded in that regard. Bravo? I don't think I was as disappointed with it as I felt last night, certainly. 3.5 stars it is. . . Wait,no, it's gone up to five stars. I fee ...more
AC

William has written a brilliant (in my opinion) and appreciative review of this book here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I agree with much of it - including William's statement that "the detective work he does is like a child’s game carried out in a friend’s backyard".

That said -- and though I adored the other Ishiguro I've read (including Never Let Me Go, written after Orphans) -- this book does not work (for me), and I can fully understand why some of my GR 'friends' gave this a mere
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
When we create the ability to solve 1 15 Aug 12, 2015 10:52PM  
The Filipino Group: This topic has been closed to new comments. [Buddy Reads] When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro | Start Date: April 1 17 52 Apr 17, 2015 01:41AM  
?¿¿¿¿???? 2 33 May 12, 2014 10:44AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: When We Were Orphans 1 8 Jan 14, 2013 07:00AM  
  • The Keepers of Truth
  • Chatterton
  • Master Georgie
  • Reading Turgenev
  • I'll Go to Bed at Noon
  • A Long Long Way
  • The Underground Man
  • The Hiding Place
  • Briefing for a Descent Into Hell
  • The Blackwater Lightship
  • Oxygen
  • Quarantine
  • Crossing the River
  • The Deposition of Father McGreevy
  • The Dark Room
  • Europa
  • The Crazed
  • Athena (The Freddie Montgomery Trilogy, #3)
4280
Kazuo Ishiguro (カズオ・イシグロ or 石黒 一雄) is a British novelist of Japanese origin. His family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor's degree from the University of Kent in 1978 and his Master's from the University of East Anglia's creative writing course in 1980. He became a British citizen in 1982. He now lives in London.

His first novel, A Pale View of Hills, won the 1982 Winifred Ho
...more
More about Kazuo Ishiguro...

Share This Book



“All I know is that I've wasted all these years looking for something, a sort of trophy I'd get only if I really, really did enough to deserve it. But I don't want it anymore, I want something else now, something warm and sheltering, something I can turn to, regardless of what I do, regardless of who I become. Something that will just be there, always, like tomorrow's sky. That's what I want now, and I think it's what you should want too. But it will be too late soon. We'll become too set to change. If we don't take our chance now, another may never come for either of us.” 273 likes
“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.” 59 likes
More quotes…