Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro

an artist of the floating world
kazuo ishguro
c. 1986
208 pages
completed 2/26/2011

read for: i want more challenge, global challenge, historical fiction challenge, tbr challenge, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading up from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as "the Bridge of Hesitation,"you will not have to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two ginko trees.

Ono is a retired artist living in post war Japan. One daughter is married and the other is just beginning her marriage negotiations. Negotiations fell through for Noriko a year earlier leading Ono to look back on his involvement in World War II and attempt to understand how his actions have affected his life and the lives of those around him.

This was an interestingly structured book. I often don't like books that aren't linear and this has a lot of nonlinear elements. It jumps back in time from what's considered the present (1948-1950 Japan) to different memories before, during, and immediately after WWII. But it worked out for me since there was still one underlying linear story: Ono working towards his daughter's marriage negotiation. It was through this one linear story that Ono visits his memories. This is a story with an unreliable narrator. He remembers things differently in 1948 than he does in 1950. He goes through a period of remembering himself as someone who acted with honor during the war to someone who claims to be able to take responsibility for working in a way that now is not looked on well, creating propaganda for the country. However, he never quite comes around to understanding the real root of his dishonor and what he did to so horribly tear apart certain people's lives.

Ono is an extremely complex character and despite thinking that he's changing his perception of himself, he actually continues on in a state of denial. Ono's daughters and grandson are less complex, but instead stand to represent changing attitudes in Japan (and actually much of the rest of the world). The older daughter, subservient and always at the very least acting as if she's giving way to her father's wants, is representative of pre-war Japan. The younger daughter, who constantly butts heads with her father, and Ichiro, Ono's grandson who dreams of being an America cowboy, are indicative of the vast Americanization that occurred as a result of the end of World War II. While their characters might not be overly complex, what they represent helps to shape Ono's character.


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