Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s so dreadfully boring that you contemplate starting a fire with the book and warming yourself up a little. “When we were Orphans” follows Christopher Banks, an English boy born in early-twentieth-century Shanghai, who is orphaned at age nine when his mother and father both vanish under suspicious circumstances. Sent to live in England, he grows up to become a renowned detective and, more than twenty years later, returns to Shanghai, where the Sino-Japanese War is raging, to solve the mystery of the disappearances.
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
While I’ve enjoyed (for about 5 minutes) hearing the voice of Christopher talking in his very posh accent about the dreadfulness of it all, it got tedious after a while and I started reading diagonally trying to make sense of what he meant in that sea of words and not what he was actually saying.
“It has occurred to me that I should try and view in a similar spirit something which, over these three weeks I have been here in Shanghai, has come to be a perennial source of irritation: namely, the way people here seem determined at every opportunity to block one’s view. No sooner has one entered a room or stepped out from a car than someone or other will have smilingly placed himself right within one’s line of vision, preventing the most basic perusal of one’s surroundings. Often as not, the offending person is one’s very host or guide of that moment; but should there be any lapse in this quarter, there is never a shortage of bystanders eager to make good the shortcoming. As far as I can ascertain, all the national groups that make up the community here—English, Chinese, French, American, Japanese, Russian—subscribe to this practice with equal zeal, and the inescapable conclusion is that this custom is one that has grown up uniquely here within Shanghai’s International Settlement, cutting across all barriers of race and class.”
The stilted fussy style of narrative also sounds like a satire of British writers: all of these incredibly long introductions and explanations, enough to keep me snoring on a long winter night. No cocoa for me, just some Kazuo Ishiguro brew.
It is now 1937 and the start the Japanese war with China (20+ years after the parents disappeared). Banks arrives in Shanghai and there is a general consensus at the British settlement that he is there not only to rescue his parents, but in doing so, to prevent any escalation in the war. There is never any question or explanation as to how the two are connected. He becomes convinced that his parents are being held captive in a house in the middle of the war zone, and proceeds to attempt to free them at whatever cost of Chinese and/or Japanese lives.
Note: this book was abandoned about half way through due to pure boredom and the strange construction of the story lines and sentences! The building blocks of ideas!
Boo! Mr Ishiguro , Boo! Having read “Never let me go“, in which Ishiguro successfully spliced the literary novel with a dystopian science fiction theme, I think I understand what he was trying to do with this book: to repeat the experiment with the detective story. This bombed terribly and I wish I never purchased this book to begin with.
I did not always regard it so; in fact, I had more or less forgotten it altogether when a few years ago, quite by chance, something happened which caused me not only to recall it again, but to appreciate for the first time the deeper implications of what I had witnessed that day