Lydia's Reviews > When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Nov 18, 2007

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Read in December, 2007

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 is in a way bizarre enough. But the fact that everywhere he goes, everyone else is aware of the case and of his search seemed to me to be a signal not to believe a word he said. Even accepting that, I still had problems.

The basic premise plays out to such a ridiculous ending, with a young man discovering--amidst the horrors of war and upheaval around him--that in the end his private hell was all about sex. Perhaps this is symbolic in its way of the goings on of the whole period. After all, opium is at the heart of much of the real conflict in Shanghai at the time of the novel, and that puts the pleasure of opium use center stage. But, that symbolism wasn't enough to make this book really work for me. I wanted either a more believable story with fewer, far fewer, coincidences. Or I wanted to gain some satisfying insight into the character so I could see his growth for what it was. But it is unclear that the man at the end of the book differs in any substantial way from the boy at the beginning--a boy too old to seem like an authentic boy, and a man too young to seem like a n authentic man. It is only the quality of the writing and the very evocative use of detail that made me want to keep reading, and that led to the three stars.
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