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When We Were Orphans
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When We Were Orphans

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  13,019 ratings  ·  1,237 reviews

A masterful novel from one of the most admired writers of our time.

Christopher Banks, an English boy born in early-20th-century Shanghai, is orphaned at age nine when both his mother and father disappear under suspicious circumstances. He grows up to become a renowned detective, and more than 20 years later, returns to Shanghai to solve the mystery of the disappearances.

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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 3rd 2000 by Faber & Faber (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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William1
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 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 believed victims
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Libby
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,
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K.D. Absolutely
Jan 18, 2015 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Seth Hahne
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
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
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.
Kay
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
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Dave
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
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Ivonne Rovira
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
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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
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Lydia
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
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Jeff Jackson
-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
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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
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Judith
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
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Ana
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
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Mike
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.
Nazi
هیجان انگیز
سیاه
تلخ
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
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Lynai
May 20, 2015 Lynai rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lynai by: Monique
Memories, nostalgia, mystery, war and how it makes orphans of most of us. Lovely, melancholic prose, Ishiguro. I am a fan.

More of my thoughts soon.

***UPDATE***

I read When We Were Orphans last month as a scheduled buddy read with my mommy-friends from the book club. The only other Ishiguro I have read before this book was Never Let Me Go which, to this day, remains as one of my most favorite novels of all time. His other popular book, The Remains of the Day, has been on my to-read list for quite
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Kelly
Never Let Me Go devastated me--so much so, that I hesitated to pick up When We Were Orphans for about five years. I didn't want to spend another two weeks sniveling into my hankie and generally embarrassing myself.

While the narrative voice of When We Were Orphans is familiar, the story is very different. It's still emotionally charged, and the revelations are...sad. No other word for it. What really struck me, will stick with me, though, is Christopher's naivete. A good portion of the story is r
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Sara
Prima di tutto vorrei spendere due parole sulla difficoltà che ho avuto a reperire questo libro, che ho finito col comprare usato e in non troppo buone condizioni su Amazon Germania. Pare che Ishiguro sia un autore ancora perlopiù alieno al mercato digitale e che le vie di accesso al suo universo narrativo tendano a limitarsi sulle vetrine internazionali ai suoi indiscussi capolavori: Quel che resta del giorno e Non lasciarmi. Peccato, poiché questo delicatamente intenso narratore ha tantissimo ...more
Hallie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Judy

I have only read one other Ishiguro novel before: Never Let Me Go. I once saw him speak about that book at a reading and learned that he is rather obsessed with memory and how it is related to sense of self. On the experience of reading two of his six novels, I would call him difficult to read but emotionally deep.

The emotional depth is not in the writing which is almost without emotion. By some alchemy though, I felt or maybe even contributed emotion while reading. Was I trying to add it in bec
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Jae
This was absolutely fantastic. Ostensibly this is a detective story, one of my favorite kinds, atmospheric and lyrical in its own way, about a man searching for answers as to his parents' disappearance during his childhood in Shanghai. But as the book progresses the genre becomes as unreliable as the narrator (another thing I love, unreliable narrators). Throughout the novel for me there was a building sense of anxiety as I kept thinking, this can't be right, there's something missing in this st ...more
Yulia
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
Daniel Clausen
The novel takes place in perhaps one of the most romantic of times: the interwar period. The author paints it perfectly as a place full of hope, dread, hypocrisy, and sentimentality. I read this book right after reading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Both books have fantastic scenery and contrasts. Like Dickens’ work, the book can slip into the melodramatic at times.

For all that goes right with the book—its romantic scenery, its dialogue, plot twists that excite—I also feel that it suffe
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Shovelmonkey1
Aaaargh this book was so hard to read! It just didn't hold my attention at all and despite trying very hard on 3 separate occassions I just could not finish it. So i gave up. And yes on this occassion i don't mind being a quitter. It wasn't worth the boredom i would endure trying to complete it. Christopher Banks is the most sinfully dull character ever.
Cateline
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
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Eleanor
This book intrigued me but ultimately left me a bit bemused. The central character (that phrase "unreliable narrator" definitely seems appropriate) seems to be living a fantasy life, obsessed with his own puzzle solving, which is somehow going to solve problems in China and possibly the rest of the world as it lurches towards the Second World War.

There is an air of unreality throughout the book, and yet at the end it just peters out where I was expecting a revelation about his delusional state.
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The Filipino Group: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro | Start Date: April 1 17 38 Apr 17, 2015 01:41AM  
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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 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 Holtby
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More about Kazuo Ishiguro...
Never Let Me Go The Remains of the Day The Buried Giant An Artist of the Floating World A Pale View of Hills

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“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.” 221 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.” 38 likes
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