Jeff Scott's Reviews > An Artist of the Floating World

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
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's review
Apr 04, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: japanese-fiction, world-war-ii
Read from April 03 to 04, 2010


I went into this book a bit blindly. I love the author's work so I picked this one up, not knowing the main crux of the work. Ishiguro even hides it's purpose until three-quarters of the way into the book. He is such a great writer though and his endings are always fabulous.

It's the first book that I have read that involves Japanese guilt over World War II. Of course, the main character, a famous artist, doesn't think anyone should feel guilty of anything. It's a story of youth and regret.

Ono, now retired, was a famous artist in his day. He is adjusting to retired life and attempting arrangements for his daughters wedding. The house he lives in still has bomb damage from the war. A reminder of the damaged past of World War II. Ono had a strong role in the war even though he was only an artist. This seems a conversation always avoided, an elephant in the room, and his true involvment during the war are revealed later in the work. This is the story of a man reflecting on his past, the consequences of his actions, and what to make of them now.

It isn't just about the war and it is more of a backdrop to a story about impetuous youth, purpose and finding one's way.

It's a bit startling how the author pulls you in. Ono has strong beliefs, how one should be true to one's self, one's purpose. Then that Japan had not been wrong in starting the war, then that he was the primary propaganda person egging on the war, then that he was on the comittee for unpatriotic affairs, and then we can go back to all his troubles as an old man and understand his troubles now, after the war.

If the author led with those points, it would of course undercut the story. It is a good comparison of the reflection of youth. Too often the youth can be so serious when it seems that youth should be more interested in pleasurable things and enjoy frivolities. The book emphasized these points and the story has regret to it. It was hard for me to decipher which side the author falls on. Does he regret the war or was it good to follow through on one's beliefs?Perhaps that question is part of the journey.

Shintaro's ignorance of such matters is often remarkable, but as I
say, it is not something to disparage. One should be thankful there
are still those uncontaminated by the current cynicism. P 30

That while it was right to look up to teachers, it was always
important to question their authority. The Takeda experience taught me
never to follow the crowd blindly, but to consider carefully the
direction in which I was being pushed. And if there's one thing I've
tried to encourage you all to do, it's been to rise above the sway of
things. To rise above the undesirable and decadent influences that
have swamped us and have done so much to weaken the fibre of our
nation these past ten fifteen years. P 119

I must say I find it hard to understand how any man who values his
self-respect would wish for long to avoid responsibility for his past
deeds; it may not always be an easy thing, but there is certainly a
satisfaction and dignity to be gained in coming to terms with the
mistakes one has made in the course of one's life. In any case, there
is surely no great shame in mistakes made in the best of faith. It is
surely a thing far more shameful to be unable or unwilling to
acknowledge them. P 201

For indeed, a man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something more than ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if in the end he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions... If one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is a consolation--indeed, a deep satisfaction--to be gained from this observation when looking back over one's life. P210

For it is by no means desirable that one be always instructing and pronouncing to one's pupils; there are many situations when it is preferable to remain silent so as to allow them the chance to debate and ponder. As I say, anyone who has been in a position of large influence will appreciate this. P 221

Exploring the city's floating world, the night time world of pleasure, entertaiemt and drink which formed the backdrop of all of our paintings... P230 is my belief that in such troubled times as these, artists must learn to value something more tangible than those pleasurable things that disappear with the morning light. It is not necessary that artists always occupy a decadent and enclosed world. My conscience, Sensei, tells me I cannot remain an artist in a floating world. P 290

We at least acted on what we believed and did our utmost. It's just that in the end we turned out to be ordinary men. Ordinary men with no special gifts of insight, it was simply our misfortune to have been ordinary men during such times. P 320

"but then I am not too proud to see that I too was a man of some influence, who used that influence to a disasterous end. p 311
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