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When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans (2000), Kazuo Ishiguro's fifth novel, has been called the author's weakest work, and I heard that he's admitted this himself to some degree, perhaps in an interview. That said, he's such an incredibly capable storyteller that his "worst novel" would be more appropriately labeled as his "least best."

I do agree, though, that this isn't as good as his others. It felt too long in places and could've benefited from some editing to slim these parts down. At times I really enjoyed it, as much for Ishiguro's brilliant descriptions as for the story itself. He's extraordinarily astute when it comes to describing particular scenes and human nature, choosing the precise language, as Dickens would, to capture the very essence or nuance of something or someone.

I got the feeling Ishiguro didn't know exactly where he was going about two-thirds of the way through. The book follows detective Christopher Banks as he tries to solve the mystery of his parents' disappearance, which occurred during his childhood in 1930s Shanghai. From London he eventually returns to Shanghai, areas of which the Japanese at this point are regularly bombing. There he tries to track down those who may know what happened to his folks. He suspects they got caught up in the opium trade and were kidnapped by a warlord and have for years been locked up in a house. And this part, towards the end, didn't make much sense to me. Banks being so sure that his parents would still be in that house after so many years was implausible. And why did Ishiguro devote so many pages to Banks' seemingly endless search for that house? It felt as though the narrator or author had become distracted from telling the actual story. But to end on a positive note, I think the first half of the book is excellent, and the last fifty pages or so are good too, and whatever makes the other parts disappointing does not make the book anything less than a pretty good read.


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