When 9-year-old Christopher Banks's father--a British businessman involved in the opium trade--disappears from the family home in Shanghai, the boy and his friend Akira play at being detectives: "Until in the end, after the chases, fist-fights and gun-battles around the warren-like alleys of the Chinese districts, whatever our variations and elaborations, our narratives would always conclude with a magnificent ceremony held in Jessfield Park, a ceremony that would see us, one after another, step out onto a specially erected stage ... to greet the vast cheering crowds."
But Christopher's mother also disappears, and he is sent to live in England, where he grows up in the years between the world wars to become, he claims, a famous detective. His family's fate continues to haunt him, however, and he sifts through his memories to try to make sense of his loss. Finally, in the late 1930s, he returns to Shanghai to solve the most important case of his life. But as Christopher pursues his investigation, the boundaries between fact and fantasy begin to evaporate. Is the Japanese soldier he meets really Akira? Are his parents really being held in a house in the Chinese district? And who is Mr. Grayson, the British official who seems to be planning an important celebration? "My first question, sir, before anything else, is if you're happy with the choice of Jessfield Park for the ceremony? We will, you see, require substantial space."
In When We Were Orphans Kazuo Ishiguro uses the conventions of crime fiction to create a moving portrait of a troubled mind, and of a man who cannot escape the long shadows cast by childhood trauma. Sherlock Holmes needed only fragments--a muddy shoe, cigarette ash on a sleeve--to make his deductions, but all Christopher has are fading recollections of long-ago events, and for him the truth is much harder to grasp. Ishiguro writes in the first person, but from the beginning there are cracks in Christopher's carefully restrained prose, suggestions that his version of the world may not be the most reliable. Faced with such a narrator, the reader is forced to become a detective too, chasing crumbs of truth through the labyrinth of Christopher's memory.
Ishiguro has never been one for verbal pyrotechnics, but the unruffled surface of this haunting novel only adds to its emotional power. When We Were Orphans is an extraordinary feat of sustained, perfectly controlled imagination, and in Christopher Banks the author has created one of his most memorable characters. --Simon Leake --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Set in Shanghai on the eve of World War II, Ishiguro's Booker-nominated novel follows the surreal predicament of Christopher Banks, an English expatriate whose overwrought state is perfectly rendered by narrator John Lee. After his parents are mysteriously kidnapped, nine-year-old Christopher is shipped off to England, where he grows up to become the Sherlock Holmes of his timesAa man able to right wrongs, restore order. After 18 years, Banks returns to Shanghai with the bizarre notion that if he can find his parents, he can prevent the world war. Banks's search drags him through the era's Chinese-Japanese war in a masterful sequence where past and present, reality and imagination, good and evil become indistinguishable. Lee seamlessly renders Banks's complex psychology, but he employs an exaggerated nasal voice for the characters of several pompous Brits, and his Chinese and Japanese accents are often off-putting. But listeners probably won't let these small blemishes keep them from Ishiguro's much-acclaimed tale of abandonment, nostalgia and self-delusion. Based on the Knopf hardcover (Forecasts, July 10).
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
If the reader is still looking for a nice coherent plot from an Ishiguro novel, lots of luck. It just isn't going to happen. Read morePublished on July 23 2006 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
I have read all of Ishiguro's previous novels including the painfully frustrating Unconsoled. The first two-thirds of Orphans raised my hopes that Ishiguro had returned to previous... Read morePublished on June 2 2002 by D. Fay
A brief look at the available reviews shows that middle opinions are rare. You either have the taste for Ishiguro's works after "The Remains of The Day" or you don't. Read morePublished on May 3 2002 by missir
There are several interpretations of this book.
As a mystery this is very disappointing because we are never given enough information to understand why Christopher comes to... Read more
I admit that I have not yet finished the book, and so perhaps should reserve judgement, but I won't. Read morePublished on April 27 2002 by andy barrett
I love this book. Will you? It's hard to say. If you are concerned with question of one's responsibility towards global justice, toward those who are close to us, to ourselves, and... Read morePublished on April 25 2002
There seems to be quite a few reviewers who prefer Remains of the Day over When We Were Orphans. I don't quite understand this preference since there are obvious parallels between... Read morePublished on April 16 2002
I had to plow through this book, which made no real sense after a while. It was soo boring. Full of nonsence information. Read morePublished on April 15 2002 by Eleonora Subak
Oh how I hated this book. Sometimes I give up on a book when it is written poorly or with poor story craftsmanship. Read morePublished on April 12 2002 by Nicholas R. Gibson