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When We Were Orphans

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From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day comes this stunning work of soaring imagination.
Born in early-twentieth-century Shanghai, Banks was orphaned at the age of nine after the separate disappearances of his parents. Now, more than twenty years later, he is a celebrated figure in London society; yet the investigative expertise that has garnered him fame has done little to illuminate the circumstances of his parents' alleged kidnappings. Banks travels to the seething, labyrinthine city of his memory in hopes of solving the mystery of his own, painful past, only to find that war is ravaging Shanghai beyond recognition-and that his own recollections are proving as difficult to trust as the people around him.

Masterful, suspenseful and psychologically acute, When We Were Orphans offers a profound meditation on the shifting quality of memory, and the possibility of avenging one’s past.

336 pages, Paperback

First published January 16, 2000

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About the author

Kazuo Ishiguro

55 books33.3k followers
Sir Kazuo Ishiguro (カズオ・イシグロ or 石黒 一雄), OBE, FRSA, FRSL is a British novelist of Japanese origin and Nobel Laureate in Literature (2017). His family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor's degree from the University of Kent in 1978 and his Master's from the University of East Anglia's creative writing course in 1980. He became a British citizen in 1982. He now lives in London.

His first novel, A Pale View of Hills, won the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, won the 1986 Whitbread Prize. Ishiguro received the 1989 Man Booker prize for his third novel The Remains of the Day. His fourth novel, The Unconsoled, won the 1995 Cheltenham Prize. His latest novel is The Buried Giant, a New York Times bestseller. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017.

His novels An Artist of the Floating World (1986), When We Were Orphans (2000), and Never Let Me Go (2005) were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

In 2008, The Times ranked Ishiguro 32nd on their list of "The 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945". In 2017, the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, describing him in its citation as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,878 reviews
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,079 followers
January 4, 2016
Second reading. Ishiguro's novels are nothing if not enigmatic. There's disorientation; the reader is never quite sure where he stands. When We Were Orphans is a quasi-Bildungsroman or coming of age/detective story. It is set over a period of fifty years or so in London, Shanghai and then back in London again.

Narrator Christopher Banks is born of English parents with whom he lives in the International Concession in Shanghai. Around 1915 or so they disappear, when he is about nine, and are believed victims of the kidnapping gangs operating in the city at the time. His guardians send him to London where he attends Oxford. At one gathering with college friends he is given a large magnifying glass as a prank, but Christopher, whose sense of irony is nonexistent at this point, takes the gift very seriously. Very soon he is pursuing a successful career as a detective in London.

His successes however are mysteries, enigmas, as is his process of achieving them. The reader is intentionally excluded from the procedural detail of Christopher’s cases. Ishiguro busies himself with overturning the conventions of the detective novel. There’s a lot of highly idealistic talk at this stage by Christopher and those he meets about answering the call and subverting evil. The argument we soon realize is far too broad and encompassing. After a while it takes on a cartoonish or comicbook impracticality. This is also intentional.

In the early part of the novel, Christopher often equivocates. He’s fond of phrases like “it is entirely possible,” or “I do not remember quite how this came about.” The watchword for Christopher in the first third of the novel is denial. He is living an extended adolescence. He hasn’t grown up. We see this childishness in his belief, carried to the nth degree once he returns to Shanghai, that he can “rescue” his parents; that, in fact, his parents are still alive and living with their kidnappers somewhere in the city. This is pure fantasy, which is how Christopher rolls.

A virgin with heterosexual leanings, early on he is attracted to the social gadfly and fellow orphan Sarah Hemmings. There's clearly a connection on the level of desire but Christopher has little notion of what he might do with Sarah were she in his possession. Sex is a mystery. Note to lovers of literary sex, this novel is without it. There are, thankfully, no erection-inducing passages. Sarah represents an overturning of the love-of-his-life convention, rife in thrillers mostly of the lower grade.

Unlike Christopher’s mother, who undertakes what turns out to be a very dangerous campaign against British opium trafficking in China — a very thrusting woman who completely belittles and alienates her spouse — Sarah believes she can only be effective in life if she is married to the right man. When Christopher doesn’t do anything despite her repeated public praising of him, she marries an old dodderer, Sir Cecil Medhurst, with the object of goading him into one last bout of productivity, presumably diplomatic -- we’re never quite sure what Sir Cecil does -- before he croaks. This lights a fire under Christopher who realizes the time has come to rescue his parents. He seems completely unaware of the fact that he’s really going to Shanghai to find Sarah.

The first fifth of the book is about Christopher pursuing his detective career as a young man in London, 1932. The second fifth is all flashback to Christopher’s childhood in Shanghai with his parents, his Japanese friend and neighbor, Akira, with whom he plays, and someone known as Uncle Philip, who is not a real uncle at all. This section outlines Christopher’s naïve mindset which persists for the first two-thirds of the book.

Christopher returns to Shanghai just after the Japanese invasion of 1937. Now the story distorts into almost camp surrealism. Things get very bizarre. Ishiguro intentionally conflates Christopher's purpose in the city. Is he there to “solve” the war situation? Is he there to rescue his parents? Or is he there for another unnamed purpose? The reader is never sure. Then there’s his cryptic raging against the city fathers for having “let the situation” deteriorate so much. The reader is never quite sure what he’s talking about. This “disorientation” is an analog to Christopher’s mental state. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about and so can be called highly unreliable.

The detective work he does is like a child’s game carried out in a friend’s backyard. The cartoonishly large magnifying glass implies a focus that Christopher is entirely lacking. Everyone in Shanghai knows he’s there, but why he’s there is constantly shifting. A fellow at the British Consulate, Grayson, seems on one level to actively mock Christopher by going on at length about a reception to be held in a public park once Christopher rescues his parents, which seems far from certain. This is so deftly handled though that we aren’t sure if it’s cruelty on Grayson’s part or if he possesses the same depths of credulity as Christopher.

It is not until an excruciating scene in Shanghai amid fighting between the Japanese and the Chinese Nationalists that Christopher comes upon the brutal truth. (I am reminded of J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun here, also set in Shanghai.) I don’t want to reveal how the revelation is brought about. Let’s just say, that the last fifth of the book represents an astonishing pulling together and elegant recapitualtion of what had up to this point seemed to be aimless and disconnected bits of information. Suddenly--bang!--the novel jigsaws itself together. The achievement here is outstanding. I think it represents, as the early part of the novel was an usurpation of detective novel conventions, a bit of an homage to them. There’s this turnabout aspect to the narrative that is entirely unexpected and thrilling.

The reader must really trust the novelist here. The first two thirds of the book seem almost desultory, but in fact this is meant to reflect the fact that Christopher Banks is not quite an adult. He equivocates, he hedges, he sidesteps, etc., as opposed to the last fifth of the book where he becomes more certain, more sure of things, more determined in matters of the heart. In short, Christopher Banks has grown up. And it is one of the most ruthless and pitiless maturations I have ever come across in fiction. When Christopher becomes aware not only of how he has lived his life, but of the delusions he has had to willfully maintain in order to live it — the reader feels sledgehammered. There’s that wonderful interval when we read on breathless, stunned, appalled, as if our lives depended on it. Christopher’s earlier misdirection and hesitation and willed ignorance are swept away. He comes of age and as with all of us this means facing down some pretty cruel truths.

This to my mind is Ishiguro’s best novel, though the others are worthwhile and I recommend them without reservation, especially The Remains of the Day. In this one there is a powerful distillation and crystallization of Ishiguro's methods and voice. If you only read one novel by Ishiguro make it this one.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
October 14, 2017
My favourite Ishiguro!

“On the contrary, it is never too late to, as you put it, pick up the scent”

Indeed, it most certainly isn’t. This book was so, so, deep. I feel like my emotions have been stretched to breaking point when reading. If you’ve not ready any of Ishiguro’s novels before, then don’t be deceived, this is no mere crime novel: this is an exploration of the human soul.

Ishiguro has written such a powerful novel here. In the process of questioning the fleeting nature of the past, the fickleness of the human mind, he shows us that memories are just memories: they can never be recreated or relived. They’ve gone. Despite what human will would try to dictate, it can’t ever be changed; it will always remain in the past; it’s finished with. The same is very true for human character: the person you will be in twenty years is not the same as the person you are today. Time changes all, even memories. The power of Ishiguro’s words resides in his evocation of a longing to return to the past, and the futility of it.

“Your farther never arrived at the office this morning. But, I’m sure there is a perfectly simple explanation”

Some novels just speak so clearly to you on a personal level, and this one shook me to the core. Christopher Bank’s story transcends that of the mere plot, and his quest to find his parents. The details aren’t important. These are simple vessels for Ishiguro to capture his meaning. Banks has become a celebrated detective, but his haunted by his memories of his childhood. So, eventually, he acts on them, and tries to return to a time long past; he finds everything has changed, and he, himself, has changed along with everyone he once knew: the past is dead. It only lives in his mind.

The structure of the novel accentuated this. The narrative continuously shifted time perspectives, which suggested Bank’s longing to return to his home. He tells the story of his childhood, in parts, in a fragmented and sporadic narrative. The need to return builds up slowly, inside him, until there is no other possible avenue of pursuit. It’s simply what he must do to carry on living. Life is never that straightforward though. You cannot so easily pick up the tatters of an old life; they are discarded much more easily. Time changes all, and war is just another catalyst in a dark world.


Ishiguro is an excellent writer. I bought a copy of each and every book he has written after reading this. I simply must work my way through them all. This is not a genre of fiction I don’t normally like; I tend to avoid modern literary fiction like the plague. Perhaps that should change. I hope all of Ishiguro’s novels are as good as this and the The Remains of the Day because I just may have found an author to add to my favourites list. I’ll be reading Never Let Me Go later this year.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,102 reviews7,208 followers
October 26, 2019
I’ll characterize this novel as ‘haunting.’

A boy grows up with his British parents in the enclave of Shanghai where all foreigners have to live. It’s around 1900. Much of the first half of the book involves the man’s reminiscences of his childhood, particularly time spent playing with his next-door buddy who was Japanese. The boy learns bits and pieces of intrigue from conversations among his mother, father and uncle. His mother was an active anti-opium crusader through her women’s clubs. Yet his father’s big British firm may secretly be involved in opium trafficking. When the boy is about ten years old both of his parents disappear in separate incidents. He’s now an orphan sent back to London to live with an aunt.


Contrary to what we might expect from the title, although ‘orphanhood’ is mentioned throughout the book, it’s not really a well-developed theme. He is courted by a socialite in London who is an orphan, and he adopts a young girl who is an orphan, but we don’t really get much insight into the theme.

Eventually the main character becomes a famous detective in London. We learn nothing of the cases he has been involved in. He read Sherlock Holmes as a kid and played detective with his Japanese friend. He also learned about and from Chinese detectives when his parents disappeared, so that makes sense as a career path for him.


Years later (1937), when his detective skills are sharpened, he returns to Shanghai to find out what happened to his parents. Here the story takes a turn to fantasy. Even though his parents have been missing for more than 20 years, he and others start to believe that he will actually FIND them and rescue them from ‘kidnappers.’ One official at the British embassy starts planning a party for their return. The main character finds clues that lead him into neighborhoods of the city that are actively being bombed by the Japanese. He comes to believe he has found a dying Japanese soldier who is his old childhood friend. In the end, -- I won’t say ‘solves’ the mystery -- but he does learn what happened to his parents -- different stories for each.

Another large part of the story revolves around a socially prominent woman who initially avoids the main character but essentially throws herself at him after he becomes famous. While he’s searching for his missing parents, she has married and is coincidentally living in Shanghai with her husband. The marriage is a disaster and she and the main character make plans to run off and marry.


A good, not a great, novel. A psychological novel about memory. There’s good writing and some suspense.

From top, photo of Shanghai in the 1930's from cdn1.i-scmp.com/sites/default/files/styles
Chinese people in 1900's from dailymail.co.uk
The author from nobelprize.org
Profile Image for Libby.
80 reviews79 followers
February 3, 2009
Many reviews here have commented on Ishiguro's unreliable narrators (let's let that classification stand, whether or not it is entirely valid or really applies to all of his work), as if this aspect of his fiction is so obvious, or that it has been so exhaustively mined, that there is little to nothing left to say about such a narrative strategy.

Christopher Banks, When We Were Orphans' narrator, is certainly unreliable, yes. But our relationship to him as an unreliable narrator is a strange one, an inverted one. I think that it's fairly clear to the reader early on that Banks's memories and perceptions do not align with those of the people with whom he surrounds himself and/or encounters. His school chums and his one-time guardian recount for him their memories of his child self as a lonely, melancholy boy, which contravene his insistent accounting of himself as a sociable, friendly, put-on-a-brave-face type of lad. His insistence, which seems to verge on a quiet, private hysteria, his disproportionate insult, and the confluence of multiple others' POV point us to the fact that the schism between how he sees himself and how the world sees/saw him is not just a matter of opinion. The novel shows us, time and again, that Christopher is unwilling, unable, to reconcile not only his memory but his ongoing lived experience (see the scene at the wedding where he is apparently subjugated to teasing and humiliation, but insists that said teasers are his friends, etc., and note that we never get to see the actual scene) to the lived experience and memory of others. (We also never get to see him work, to uncover anything, to solve anything.)

Here's where I'm sort of getting to my (excruciatingly long-winded) point...

When We Were Orphans tells us, its readers, that it is a mystery novel. The book offers us one story, the disappearance of Christopher's parents, claiming that this story is its central mystery and suggesting, by form and structure, that this will be the riddle we puzzle out as we read, alongside Christopher. Thus, we enter into a sort of contract with the book in which we agree to be careful, astute readers, who by dint of our diligence and hard work will be treated to the satisfaction of resolution.

All along, however, there is a secondary mystery that is actually the primary mystery, and that mystery is twofold: one, when will Christopher realize how deeply, irreparably damaged his perception of the world is, and two, WE THINK when we will learn the truth that his distorted vision has necessarily been hiding from us, despite our best efforts to see through it? Usually, in a novel that relies on an unreliable narrator (ignore the inherent contradiction), part of the reader's pleasure is untangling the skeins of the narrator's logic in order to arrive at some approximation of truth.

But Orphans rejects that second possibility completely. (I am in no way suggesting that this novel's project is one of relativism, in which we're meant to see that there is no objective truth, or if there is, we cannot access it.) All along the mystery/mysteries is/are just a diversion, a smokescreen, a trick (that I admire deeply and totally respect) that leads us in a circle back to what we see, finally, is an absent center. There is no mystery in the book. The truth isn't the point. There is only the fact of Christopher's mutilating orphaning, his abandonment. His grievous misapprehension of his parents' abduction/leave-taking, the emotional/psychological violence of it,and his child's need to make sense and order of the insensible strand him in mental time; he is marooned in a make-believe world in which detectives are great heroes and even celebrities, a la Sherlock Holmes--a world that history tells us did not exist as such, especially in twentieth century Britain.

When Sarah offers Christopher the chance to reject his false understanding of the world, to "see clearly," and to reject a vision of himself (one that is manufactured by an innocent egotism/narcissism that has sustained him all along) in which he is the savior not only of his parents, but also of an entire city and perhaps nation, he is, finally, unable to do so. To give that up would be to negate himself, to reject his very identity. He would be twice-orphaned.

There's a lot going on here vis a vis the orphaning, of course--colonialism and imperialism, the patronizing"helping" of the east by the west, sexual politics and power, issues of class, et al. But as I read I felt more compelled by what's "missing" in this novel than what's there.

I'll confess to being somewhat befuddled by and disappointed in the final revelation concerning Christopher's mother, and unsure about the necessity of Jennifer. My only thought about Jennifer's utility (and despite its coldness, that word seems apt) is that perhaps she's meant to enact the cycle of violence that "orphaning" perpetuates... she is orphaned twice over, and the novel's end suggests how devastating this has been for her.

When I finished the book I found myself returning to its title, over and then over again. First person narratives usually require, despite old Bobby D.'s admonition, a looking back. They are necessarily retrospective. My mind lingers on the titular "When." Despite how sad the book is, despite its ambiguous ending, the title left me feeling hopeful for Christopher in that it seems to suggest that the time of his orphaning, of Jennifer's, and even of Sarah's (sigh), is past, is gone and that, no longer orphans, having chosen to look forward, to abandon their isolation and to rely on each other, on other people they might, oh they just might... be happy.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
September 24, 2020
Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro - image from his FB page

A pretty good novel. I thought it was outstanding until the back quarter. Renowned London detective Christopher Banks was raised in the International part of Shanghai, sent to England after both his parents disappeared. He is smitten with a social climbing siren who figures in his adventure when he returns to Shanghai intent on solving the mystery of his parents’ disappearance. Of course the Sino-Japanese war, two decades of change in Shanghai, and a chance to run away with the girl of his dreams complicate the matter. I did not care for the change in Banks’ character toward the end, but I was smitten with the book up to that point.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s FB, Twitter and Wikipedia pages
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews45 followers
February 26, 2022
When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans is the fifth novel by Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro, published in 2000. Ishiguro himself saying "It's not my best book".

The novel is about an Englishman named Christopher Banks. His early childhood was lived in the Shanghai International Settlement in China in the early 1900's, until his father, an opium businessman, and his mother disappear within a few weeks of each other when the boy is about ten years old.

Christopher is sent to live with his aunt in England. He becomes a successful detective; now he will turn his skills to solve the case of his parents' disappearance. Though he knows a young woman named Sarah (also orphaned at age ten), Christopher never marries; he adopts an orphaned girl in England named Jennifer.

His fame as a private investigator soon spreads, and in 1937 he returns to China to solve the most important case of his life. The impression is given that if he solves this case, a world catastrophe will be averted, but it is not apparent how. As Christopher pursues his investigation, the boundaries between life and imagination begin to evaporate. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه آوریل سال2002میلادی

عنوان: وقتی یتیم بودیم؛ نویسنده: کازوئو ایشی گورو؛ مترجم: مژده دقیقی؛ تهران، شهر کتاب، هرمس؛ سال1381، در400ص؛ شابک9643630978؛ چاپ دوم سال1385؛ چاپ چهارم سال1392؛ شابک9789643630973؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده20م

مترجم: مجید غلامی شاهدی؛ تهران، نوید ظهور، سال1394؛ در352ص؛ شابک9786008008156؛

ایشی گورو، در این رمان نیمه پلیسی، به کندوکاو در زندگی یک کارآگاه خصوصی «ژاپنی الاصل»؛ که در «انگلستان» زندگی می‌کند، پرداخته‌ است؛ نام شخصیت اصلی در این رمان «کریستوفر بنکس» است؛ کنشها و رخدادهای رمان، در سال‌های دهه ی1930میلادی می‌گذرند، و «کریستوفر بنکس»، مشهورترین کارآگاه «انگلستان» شده است؛ همه ی مردمان «لندن»، درباره ی پرونده‌ های او گفتگو می‌کنند؛ ولی معمای حل نشده‌ ای، هماره ذهنش را مشغول کرده‌ است «معمای ناپدید شدن اسرارآمیز پدر و مادرش، در دوران کودکی او، در شانگهای»؛

نقل از متن: (الآن یادم نمی‌آید، که ماجرای اتاق ناهارخوری، قبل از بازدید مأمور بهداشت اتفاق افتاد، یا بعد از آن؛ آنچه در خاطرم مانده این است که آن روز بعد از ظهر، باران شدیدی می‌بارید، و در نتیجه فضای خانه، دلگیر بود، و من نشسته بودم توی کتابخانه، و زیر نظر «مای لی» مسئله‌ های حسابم را حل می‌کردم

به آنجا می‌گفتیم «کتابخانه»، ولی تصور می‌کنم، در واقع امر، صرفاً اتاق انتظاری بود، که دیوارهایش را، برحسب تصادف، قفسه‌ های کتاب، پوشانده بود؛ وسط این اتاق، فقط به ‌اندازه ی یک میز چوب ماهون جا بود، و پشت همین میز بود، که من همیشه، پشت به در دو لنگه ‌ای اتاق ناهارخوری، تکالیف مدرسه‌ ام را، انجام می‌دادم؛ از نظر «مای لی»، آموزش من، بسیار حائز اهمیت بود، و حتی زمانی که، قریب به یک ساعت، از شروع کارم می‌گذشت، در همان حال، که شق‌ورق، بالای سرم ایستاده بود، هرگز به ذهنش خطور نمی‌کرد، که به قفسه ی پشت سرش تکیه بدهد، یا روی صندلی روبرویم، بنشیند؛ خدمتکارها، مدت‌ها پیش فهمیده بودند، که نباید، در زمان درس خواندن من، وارد شوند، و حتی پدر و مادرم هم، پذیرفته بودند، که نباید مزاحم ما شوند، مگر آنکه، کارشان خیلی ضروری باشد

به این ترتیب، تا حدی غیرمترقبه بود، که پدرم، آن روز بعد از ظهر، بدون توجه به حضور ما، آمد تو، و با قدم‌های بلند، از کتابخانه گذشت، و رفت داخل اتاق ناهارخوری، و درها را، محکم پشت سرش بست؛ چند دقیقه بعد از این ورود غیرمنتظره، مادرم هم وارد شد، و به ‌سرعت از کتابخانه گذشت، و در اتاق ناهارخوری، ناپدید شد؛ طی دقایق بعد، حتی از پشت آن درهای قطور، گهگاه کلمه، یا عبارتی، به گوشم می‌خورد، که حکایت از آن داشت، که پدر و مادرم، درگیر مشاجره‌ ای هستند؛ ولی هر وقت، سعی می‌کردم، قدری بیشتر بشنوم، و مدادم بیش از حد، روی جمع و تفریق‌هایم، مکث می‌کرد، تذكر «مای لی»، بی برو و برگرد، امیدم را نقش بر آب می‌کرد

ولی بعد، یادم نیست، این امر، دقیقاً چطور اتفاق افتاد، «مایلی» را صدا زدند، و من ناگهان، پشت میز کتابخانه، تنها ماندم؛ در آغاز، فقط به کارم ادامه دادم؛ سخت نگران بودم، که اگر «مای لی» برگردد، و مرا روی صندلی ام نبیند، چه اتفاقی می‌افتد؛ ولی هرچه غیبت او، طولانی‌تر می‌شد، اشتیاق من هم، برای سر درآوردن، از جروبحث‌های مبهم اتاق مجاور، فزونی می‌گرفت؛ سرانجام از جا بلند شدم، و به ‌طرف درهای اتاق ناهارخوری رفتم، ولی حتی آن موقع هم، هر چند ثانیه یکبار، سراسیمه، به‌ سوی میز برمی‌گشتم، یقین داشتم، صدای پای را می‌شنوم.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 23/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 06/12/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews991 followers
August 23, 2022
A celebrity detective had a traumatic childhood in Shanghai which left him an orphan sent back to live and grow in 1920s and 1930s England, where he also feels drawn, to a degree, to another orphan. This book is about his childhood, his detective years, his singular obsession and several follies, as his world is consumed with solving the ultimate crime of his childhood!

I don't even know where to start! After very much enjoying reading Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day and then been undeniably unimpressed with The Buried Giant, I was worried this book wouldn't deliver, but by Golly it truly does! From Ishiguro's exquisite skill of building historical stories and places around first person narrators and their thoughts, with only a passing nod to descriptive sentences of environments to his way of capturing the heart, and dark soul, of the British Empire without preaching, and by just telling a story. With all his immense literary flair he never detracts from the idea that he is also telling a story, and is one of those great writers who can plant such subtle seeds of foreshadowing that you didn't realise you read them, 'til the third or fourth act!

The ongoing theme of orphans which wields its way through the book is mesmerising as it's heartbreaking. Some of the secondary characters despite have so few pages dedicated to them, leap out of the page with how well conceived they are. My praise is endless. I've read a few literary reviews who accuse Ishiguro of giving the character his own 'voice' the same one used in Remains of the Day; for me it's the voice of early 20th Century England and it rings true.

I should probably mention that most of the book is set in the last days of the British Empire's meddling in Shanghai, and before the rise of Communism, but as ever with Ishiguro, despite these events being world changing, it's character, and story that lead. GENIUS. FIVE STAR READ. 10 out of 12. I can see why there's never been an adaption, how could film ever replicate the beautiful nuances of this almost perfect story?

2020 read
Profile Image for Bec.
17 reviews2 followers
July 12, 2007
I read this novel after I read Never Let Me Go, by the same author. I was surprised that the narrators' tones sounded so similar. But now I guess that's just a how the author writes, in a formal and almost stilted voice.
The ending of this book irritated me to no end and I actually had to go back through the story to see if I missed something--was the narrator seriously retarded (and I'm not trying to use that word in a disparaging way, but a descriptive way). I was baffled, not by just the behavior of the narrator, but the behavior of those around him. Why did these people aid the narrator's belief that he would find his parents still sitting in a house in the middle of war torn China? Of course there were larger issues going on; comment on colonialism perhaps, effects of a traumatic childhood event, etc. But come on! It just didn't hand together as a story and didn't deliver on the themes as well as it could have. In the end I just hated the narrator and all the stupid people around him who didn't give him slap him upside the head.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book565 followers
January 1, 2021
Kazuo Ishiguro’s enigmatic novel, When We Were Orphans, is as complex and baffling a work of fiction as I have ever encountered. Christopher Banks, our narrator, is not so much an unreliable narrator as a naive narrator who believes in the internal world he has created and acts upon it as if it were truth. Through so much of the novel I kept asking myself why he could not see the illogical conclusions he was drawing, but of course that is what this novel is about, his inability to leave his childhood behind him and his biased view of the events that lead up to the loss of his parents.

Christopher Banks is a detective, but this is not a detective story. There is a mystery to be solved, but solving the mystery is not the focus of this tale. In fact, Banks is a detective primarily because he feels himself tied to the events of his childhood that he carries around with him like an albatross. The only way he will ever be free to live his adult life is to solve the puzzle that surrounds the disappearance of first his father and then his mother. It is the mental workings of this character that are paramount, and you must be careful here because Banks sees mainly what he wishes to see, sometimes in complete opposition to what the facts appear to reveal.

Ishiguro does not entice you to follow Banks on his journey through his life, he does not lure you into the underbelly of Shanghai, he drags you along, sometimes kicking and screaming that there is something just not right about this story. I enjoyed trying to pick the truth out from among the obvious miscues and while I never felt anything akin to affection for Banks, I did sympathize with his situation and understand his desire to reconcile his childhood memories with what had truly occurred.

I suppose what I really took away from this story was that memories are not truths. The past cannot be reconstructed and no matter how much we might like to alter it, we never can. What has happened, even to ourselves, might not be in reality what happened at all, and spending the present on chasing the past might cost you the future.

...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.

Perhaps we are all chasing the shadows of vanished parents. Perhaps we are all struggling to discover who we are, separate from them, standing alone. I had a discussion with my older sister once about an event in our childhood. There were only three years separating us and both of us were present for this event and witnessed it ourselves, but our memories of it were so dissimilar as to be diametrically opposed. We can never go back there and see who was right, and maybe we both were, because what is true for one is not always what is true for another.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
February 16, 2022
A chatty and gripping read, again with regrets about life not lived in pursuit of an ideal at the heart of the story. The level of coincidences and lack of fleshing out/bolting on of characters like Akira and Jennifer made me doubt between 3 and 4 stars
Everything might scatter. You might be right. I suppose it's something we can't easily get away from. People need to feel they belong. To a nation, to a race. Otherwise, who knows what might happen? This civilisation of ours, perhaps it'll just collapse.

We follow Christopher Banks, a detective in London, with intimate ties to Shanghai. He is very much class obsessed, partly due to his status of being an orphan. Kazuo Ishiguro craftly introduces us to Christopher and skillfully introduces characters, including a potential love interest and a surrogate child. Still he feels quite detached and lives in the past, the scenes relating to his parents and childhood friend Akira are much more vivid than his current life in London.

When he does returns to the international settlement of Shanghai, the setting was fascinating, with all the questions on entitlement, exploitation, discrimination, colonization and fear of a change in the order of the world that it brought along. And as usual When We Were Orphans sucks the reader into the book gradually, making us only gently aware of these themes. Some of the choices and lucky encounters/overzealous following of clues at the three quarter point of the book are almost fever dream like, and not very convincing in my view. But in the end the theme of sorrow on a life not lived, and choices made with emphasis on duty versus what one's true self wants make this book a worthwhile read, if not necessarily one of Ishiguro's strongest.
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,000 reviews
January 31, 2022
هناك أحداث يُعيد الانسان بعدها اكتشاف الحياة والبشر
ورؤية العالم بكل ما فيه من تعقيدات وصراعات وخفايا
الرواية تدور أحداثها بين شنغهاي وبريطانيا في النصف الأول من القرن العشرين
رحلة بحث يقوم بها الراوي للكشف عن سر اختفاء والديه في الماضي
حياة الراوي انقسمت بين عالم الطفولة والبساطة والوهم وبين عالم الحقيقة والواقع
وخلال السرد يمر ايشيجورو على الأحداث التاريخية.. الهيمنة البريطانية على شنغهاي
تجارة الأفيون, الصراعات بين الشيوعيين والقوميين, والغزو الياباني للصين
سرد هادئ يجمع بين التاريخ والذاكرة والفقد وأحلام الحب

Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
November 14, 2018
Two previous flawless books; expectations were rather high, see. "A Pale View of Hills" is an essential novel to all lovers of books and history and novellas, & "Never Let Me Go" is an instant modern classic (genre splicing done EXACTLY right). This, on the other hand, is B O R I N G...! (This, granted, coming from a genuine fan of all books long & boring.)

A detective's life should certainly include many peaks, scenes of action, excitement aplenty. Kazuo Ishiguro decides to keep all this away though, all the details that would make the narrative a splendid one, and instead focuses on the case of the detective's family, gone missing for years & years. Christopher Banks tries to solve his parents' disappearance and all his other cases as a professional become this one. He is incredibly articulate about everything else, so why not the very depths of his soul? Yes, the novel is elegant, unpredictable, but I would venture to guess that there are way more Victorian, more zany, &, yes, less lengthy books out there from which to choose. It certainly doesn't need to have the maestro Kazuo Ishiguro attached.
Profile Image for Judith.
1,542 reviews76 followers
August 26, 2011
I listened to audio version of this book and kept thinking I was missing chapters or I had somehow obtained the abridged version because the plot wasn't making any sense. So mid-way through the audio, I got the book and read it, and then started reading it again, NOT because I liked it, but because I have never read such a strangely constructed work of fiction.

I am still at a loss. Was this a satire on British Imperialism? Was it meant to be a fantasy? I kept thinking there was going to be one of those ridiculous: "and then I woke up!" endings. The story is set in Shanghai where Christopher Banks lives with his parents in a British settlement, until he is mysteriously orphaned at the age of 9 and sent to live in England. The stilted fussy style of narrative also sounds like a satire of British writers: all of these incredibly long introductions and explanations, to wit:

"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." zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

But the real sin of this book is that the protagonist is a selfish boring lunatic. After being raised in England, he becomes a famous detective and one day decides to return to Shanghaii to solve the kidnapping of his parents. 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. It's nuttier than I can describe. And it was infuriating because I have so much respect for Ishiguro, but he must have been hallucinating when he wrote this.
Profile Image for Barbara.
286 reviews248 followers
January 2, 2020
Obsessions are rarely good things. Obsessions that rely on childhood memories lead to false judgements and delusional thinking. Christopher Banks, a successful London investigator and the narrator of this intriguing book, goes back to Shanghai where he lived as a child to discover the truth about the disappearance of his parents. He is unable to distinguish between what is actual and what he wants to believe. Ishaguro allows the reader to sort this out. Is the Japanese soldier really his childhood friend? Does he actually get a tour of the home of his youth? Are his parents safely hidden? Will he be exalted for returning them safely?

The "we" part of the title is significant. Christopher's adopted daughter Jennifer, and Sarah, his lost chance for happiness and an escape from this obsession, were also orphans. They, too, were greatly affected ty this early trauma. We aren't told much about Sarah. We do know that Christopher abandoned her due to his obsession and that she at one point tries to end her life. Sarah overcomes her near obsession and tries to convince Christopher to also let it go. She tells him, "We're both as bad as each other. We have to stop thinking like that. We have to put that all behind us now. You've spent enough of your life already on all of that. Let's go before it's too late for us" But Christopher is too caught up in this obsession to change course.

This was the 4th Ishaguro book I have read. Many similar themes run through these books but the characters and the plots are entirely different. I consider Ishaguro to be one of the finest modern writers I am acquainted with. I hope he will continue to produce more beautifully written, thought-provoking books.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,492 reviews2,735 followers
October 6, 2020
4.5 stars

... and already it felt like something consigned to a past era, something I need not remember if I did not wish to.

A superbly crafted narrative that is elliptical and opaque (is that why is has so many so-so reviews?) but which I also found profoundly emotive and deeply knowing about issues of loss, self-delusion (both personal and national) and denial. There are numerous mentions of memory and recall - in fact the book is structured through a series of recollected moments when the narrator comments on something in the present then goes back to reconstruct what led up to it - but, as the opening quotation shows, these are not necessarily passive memories but active ones constructed and denied at will: 'something I need not remember if I did not wish to'.

On the personal level, this makes Christopher, the narrator, a fascinating character study in self-fashioning; on a national level, this almost couldn't be more timely when there is so much public debate about the repressing of what constitutes 'history' and the excavation of different perspectives and voices that are both deeply entwined with, yet also refocus, orthodox narratives. There is a moment when a Japanese army commander in the invasion of Shanghai comments obliquely on the Western narrative of Japanese brutalities: 'But if Japan is to become a great nation, like yours, Mr Banks, it is necessary. Just as it once was for England.' And later themes of shame, acknowledgement and apology are as meaningful on the national stage as in the intimacies of personal relationships. It's Ishiguro's great accomplishment to have wrapped up such portentous issues in the ostensible story of a man who has never really faced up to the realities of his past.

Banks is a slippery narrator who allows us to see the extent to which he is rewriting his life as he lives it and in its telling - and one of the most anxious moments is at a wedding when a guest apologises for the way he has been mocked and insulted while Christopher himself waves the incident away claiming it was just a joke - we never know what actually happened (just as we never know whether his great detectives cases are real) but the intimation is clear. And it's to the credit of the book that we remain acutely sympathetic to this man who lives shrouded in active and adolescent delusions that he is fighting evil in the world, that he is the latest in a long line of superlative detectives, that even his return to Shanghai can - somehow - avert the great crisis leading to WW2...

Towards the end, there is a clue to at least one of Ishiguro's literary precedents: 'My allowance,' I said quietly. 'My inheritance...' - and the link to the revelation scene in Great Expectations helps to both focus the story and also clarify how it differs from Dickens' tale of another life lived under the burden of misconceptions and self-deception.

Oddly, while it's satisfying to learn the outcome of the central 'mystery' that drives Banks, it's also strangely unsatisfying to have the details pinned down - I think I would have preferred the ambiguity of an elusive ending though I suspect Ishiguro knew exactly what he was doing in subverting the 'detective story'.

Overall, then, a subtle, clever, profound book - it's less obvious than The Remains of the Day and moves from a subtext of personal and political responsibility to something more nebulous but, for me, deeper.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
January 18, 2015
This is my 7th Ishiguro and I am happy for two reasons: (1) I am now an Ishiguro completist and (2) unlike a couple of his earlier books, I actually liked this one. I almost rated this with 4 stars but I could not do that because I found the first half of the book unbelievably boring. However, Ishiguro managed to make the book’s last 50-70 pages truly engaging that I thought I was able to squirt some tears from my eyes when the boyhood friends were back together. It was one of the most poignant scenes that I read this year and it will stay with me for a long time.

Like is other 5 novels, this one is also told by an unreliable first-person, Christopher “Puffin” Banks. Like his other narrators, Banks also chooses which memory he would like to recall. Like the other novels, the storytelling also is nostalgic and silent. The plot could be deceiving: the prose is easy to read and at times uneventful (translation: boring) but if you read between the lines or if you persist up to the end of the book, you would know that there are reasons for the boring first half.

However, unlike my favorite books of Ishiguro, Remains and Never Let Me Go, this book has many loose ends that Ishiguro left hanging similar to what he did in Pale View. For example, how come the mother did not know that the father was trading opium when they were still dating so she could have avoided him? So what happened to Sarah Hemmings after Christopher left Shanghai? Why did she go to Shanghai in the first place (I thought that going there to be with Christopher was a flimsy reason). What is it that Christopher thinks that he will save by looking for his parents after 20 or so years? (I think Christopher is so stupid to think that his parents are there in the house when WWII is about to begin and the Chinese and Chinese soldier are already killing each other).

The other small complaint that I have is that the voices are almost similar throughout except when Akira is talking. The Chinese and Japanese people in Shanghai talk like British and when the shooting began, they still (including Christopher) talked calmly as if they were in a palatial British estate and talking to the lord and the ladies. Needless to say, Christopher’s narration reminded me of Steven, the butler, in The Remains of the Day.

This book, When We Were Orphans is refreshing because it has a mystery-suspense flavor. I read The Remains of the Day (GR Avg 4.05 with 36,526 ratings) in 2009 and I fell in love with Kazuo Ishiguro. This love was cemented the following year, 2010 when I read Never Let Me Go (GR Avg 3.74 with 98,101 ratings) followed by his collection of short stories Nocturnes (GR Avg 3.34 with 3,603 ratings). Never has a sci-fi flavor and his collection of stories has music as motif so I thought that Ishiguro indeed was a novelist who did not rewrite himself.

This year, since our book club read Remains last month, I decided to read all his other books. I began with A Pale View of the Hills (GR Avg. 3.68 with 3,507 ratings) and I thought it was almost the same as Remains and Ishiguro did not know how to end his story. Then I followed it with An Artist of the Floating World (GR Avg 3.70 with 3,718 ratings) and aside from the same complaints, the books was not able to elicit any emotional reaction from me particularly because the characters were caricatures.

However, the next book Unconsoled (GR Avg 3.46 with 2,663 ratings) was almost like a total departure from his other books. It is more dreamlike like Andre Breton’s Nadja and fearsome in its approach in storytelling and so I liked it.

This being not a rehash of his other books was the primary reason why I liked this book, When We Were Orphans (GR Avg 3.40 with 6,417 ratings). Ishiguro admitted that this was his least favorite among his works but notice the number of ratings; this is his third most read book here in Goodreads. This was also shortlisted in Booker 2000 (it lost to Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin). I am still to read that Atwood book but I think this book deserves the Booker nomination especially because of the last 2-3 chapters.

My ratings for Ishiguro’s books:

4 STARS (I really liked these!):
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

3 STARS (I liked these):
Nocturnes, Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro , The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro and When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

2 STARS (These were okay):
A Pale View Of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro and An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Not bad really. Since Ishiguro is still alive, I will still buy and read all his incoming books.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
530 reviews495 followers
November 24, 2018
When We Were Orphans made me realize that one can be deceived not only by people but also by books! Honest to God I thought this book was about solving a mystery. The protagonist being a celebrated detective added more fuel to the deception. No wonder I was disoriented by the middle of it trying desperately to understand what the mystery is all about. Well I'm not saying there was no mystery element; of course there is a touch of that, but not the way I expected. So there, I was deceived by a book!

But after all it was Ishiguro. What did I expect, a normal detective story that unravels a mystery? I should have known better. So if anyone wants to read this book, you are warned. This is no detective fiction.

Now that it is clear that this book is no detective fiction, I'll venture to say that it was more of a man's self realization, his coming to terms with life. Christopher Banks, a celebrated detective is haunted by the disappearance of his parents when he was a child. His sole purpose in life is centered on solving the puzzle of their mysterious disappearance and finding them. Although he doesn't realize, his entire young life was affected by his loss and his career were more or less decided upon so as to be able to locate his parents one day. However, his quest leads him to some shocking truths and devastating discoveries and he finally see to his utter dismay that people he naively trusted are not who they appear to be. His quest of finding the truth is the wake up call of his life as he finally understands that he had lived in a delusion.

The story is presented by the protagonist Christopher Banks himself in a series of memories as he revisit the events of his life. For most part of the story, it was not all clear whether he is telling absolutely the truth, especially when it comes to his feelings, his perceptions. From the beginning one can sense something amiss in him. He had faced the worst nightmare a child could face - losing his parents. And one can see he lives in denial, in delusion. It is no surprise that he should be an unreliable narrator.

The beauty of Ishiguro’s books undoubtedly lies in his writing. The tenderness, the compassion with which he writes about these flawed and tortured characters always strikes a major chord in the reader's heart. Christopher Banks may be delusional, his narrative may be unreliable, but he certainly earns the readers unreserved sympathy.

The story also touches on the Second Sino-Japanese War and his forthright account of brutality of the war is Ishiguro's contribution to the world to say no to war.

However, there is still a puzzle that I have not deciphered. And that is the meaning and relevance of the title to the story. Earlier in my read I thought it is because the main protagonist and couple of other characters employed were orphans. But after the read was over, I'm not quite so sure. Although I cannot find a better interpretation, I'm convinced that there is some other meaning beyond my grasp.

Overall, I enjoyed this read. And although the story was nothing, not even close to what I expected it to be, the actual story that was presented through a flawed character held my interest and kept me engaged.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,441 followers
August 22, 2014
The first thing I noticed about this book was that the narrative voice - belonging to Christopher Banks, a successful detective in 1930s England - is remarkably similar to that of Stevens, the protagonist of Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. While at first this drew me in (I loved The Remains of the Day), I soon began to find it offputting. I had assumed Stevens' voice was unique, so it was a bit of a disappointment to find that what I assumed were facets of that character are actually features of the author's own style. The plot traces Christopher's life from his fondly remembered childhood in Shanghai's International Settlement, culminating in his return to the same area as an adult. We learn how Christopher's loss of his parents - supposedly abducted - at a young age resulted in an obsession with solving mysteries, ultimately leading to his success as a detective. At the apex of his career, he returns to Shanghai to attempt to discover what happened to his parents. Finding the beloved places of his youth much altered, his increasingly obsessive need to solve the mystery leads him further and further into a war zone, providing the story's dramatic climax.

Christopher is a very interesting character, if not an entirely likeable one. It's almost immediately obvious he is an unreliable narrator, both in the traditional sense (he is holding things back from the reader) and in more unusual ways (he doesn't actually seem to recognise or understand the truth of things himself). It's clear to the observer of his story that he isn't telling the whole truth, but it also quickly becomes apparent that what he genuinely thinks he remembers, for example in relation to his status among his schoolfriends as a boy, is not accurate, and this double unreliability is both intriguing and confusing. The problem is that in the end, many of the plot's events just don't seem to hang together properly - Christopher's childhood obsession with finding his parents leading to him pursuing a career as a detective and ultimately becoming a key figure in events in Shanghai later in life; his 'relationship' with Sarah, which seems to develop very oddly; his ridiculous conviction that he will discover his parents alive and well, not to mention the fact that nobody around him contradicts this belief. With Christopher being obviously untruthful, I expected some loose ends, but it's very frustrating that nothing is explained properly, either from his viewpoint or objectively.

I think Ishiguro is an excellent writer, and although Christopher's voice echoes Stevens', the narrative gradually establishes him as a unique and memorable character in his own right. Perhaps the similarity between the two makes this an even greater achievement. And I can appreciate that Christopher not unlocking the mystery of his past is entirely the point, but I still felt unsatisfied at the end. I enjoyed reading the book, but ultimately felt like I'd taken a journey on which neither I or the protagonist had observed or learned very much.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
576 reviews7,774 followers
January 20, 2015
Eh, this isn't great. I enjoyed maybe the first 50ish pages but once the plot actually begins it just becomes a mess. It gets the extra star because I enjoyed those 50 pages. Even Ishiguro himself thinks this is a weak novel. It's overall poor.
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews404 followers
October 11, 2019
When We Were Orphans explores a wide array of political and personal themes, but its main focus is on memory, nostalgia, and the luxury of innocence. In the final sequence, the novel veers away from strict realism, into somewhat surreal, dreamlike territory. I felt the novel really reaching for something interesting here, and though it seemed to try a few ideas on, it didn't really settle on anything altogether concrete. Yet the surprising, unsettling quality of this latter section was my favourite part of the novel.

Banks’s search for his parents through the active warzone of the slums reminded me of the “tiger” skit from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life:

SERGEANT: Thirty men killed in 'F' Section.
AINSWORTH: Yes. I see. Mm.
SERGEANT: I should think about a hundred-- hundred and fifty men altogether, sir.
AINSWORTH: Jolly good. [sniffs]
SERGEANT: I haven't got the final figures, sir, but there's a lot of seriously...
SERGEANT: ...wounded in the compound.
AINSWORTH: Yes. Well, the thing is, Sergeant, I've got a bit of a problem here. One of the officers has lost a leg.
SERGEANT: Oh, no, sir!

I think what is being satirised in this exchange is not so different to what Ishiguro intends for us to see in Bank’s own behaviour: a sort of naïve self-absorption, a cultural myopia, a lack of understanding of the world as it is. Once again, I felt there were hints, little glimpses of a deeper metaphor that was almost, but not quite realised. Still, When We Were Orphans is a complex and nuanced novel, highly entertaining, though perhaps at times a little too subtle and enigmatic in its expression.
Profile Image for Parastoo Khalili.
177 reviews350 followers
February 22, 2021
امروز كه دارم اين ريويو رو مي‌نويسم ميتونم بگم حالم خوبه.
واقعيتش اينكه از وقتي شروع كردم به خوندن اين كتاب حالم خوب نبود، اتفاقات عجيب غريب زيادي افتاد كه حال و احوالم رو تغيير مي‌داد. درست مثل شخصيت اصلي كتاب "كريستوفر بنكس".

اين كتاب از زبون خود كريستور بنكس شروع ميشه، كريستوفر بنكس بزرگسال (شايدم مسن) كه شروع كرده به نوشتن خاطرات، شروع كرده به گفتن از حال و احوال بدش... هرجا كه برمي‌گرده به دوران كودكي‌ش لحن كريستوفر عوض ميشه، با شخصيت خودش كوچيك ميشه، نوجون ميشه، جوون ميشه، عاشق ميشه، خوشحال ميشه، نااميد ميشه، غمگين ميشه، كريستوفر به نظرم يكي از واقعي ترين شخصيت هايي بود كه تونستم دركش كنم..
درست نفهميدم چرا؟ چرا تونستم با كريستوفر ارتباط بگيرم و تونستم دردش رو حس كنم؟ به نظرم بخاطر جزئيات ريزي بود كه توضيح مي‌داد. كريستوفر وقتي داشت درباره ي دوران كودكي‌ش صحبت مي‌كرد از هيچ جزء كوچيكي به راحتي نمي‌گذشت. كريستوفر نه از گريه ي پدرش گذشت، نه از زمان سخت مشق نوشتن گذشت، نه از دوست كوچيك‌ش (آكيرا) گذشت، نه از اتفاقاتي كه بين اون و آكيرا رخ داد گذشت نه از وقتي كه اتفاق ترسناك بزرگ افتاد و اون از خانوادش جدا شد گذشت...
كريستوفر از هيچ جزئي نگذشت چون اون براي حل پروندش به جزئيات نياز داشت:))

پ.ن: به نويسنده هاي مورد علاقه م (كازوئو ايشي‌گورو) رو هم اضافه ميكنم:)
Profile Image for Majeed Estiri.
Author 6 books495 followers
October 5, 2017
این رمان را من سال 87 از ایشی گورو خوندم. به نظرم دو انرژی پیش برنده این اثر "نوستالژی" و "پلیس بازی" هستش. که البته و صد البته من با بخش نوستالژیش خیلی بیشتر حال کردم و به نظرم نویسنده هم بهتر تونسته بود حسش را بسازه و منتقل کنه. یعنی این نویسنده به هر حال جنایی نویس نیست.
بهترین و به یادماندنی ترین فصلش همون فصلی هست که راوی به یاد میاره چطور در دوره کودکیش یکی از اعضای باند تبهکار میاد و خیلی با مهربانی دستش را میگیره تا ببره براش یه هدیه بخره. بچه حس خوبی داره ولی مشکوکه. وسط شلوغی بازار اون تبهکار که بچه "عمو" صداش میکنه تک و تنها بچه را ول میکنه و میره و ... خیلی عالیه
به نظرم نوبل با این انتخابش آبروداری کرد امروز
هرچند هنوز فکر میکنم انتخاب باب دیلن نشون داد نمیشه زیاد دیگه نوبل را جدی گرفت
Profile Image for Lydia.
Author 15 books40 followers
November 25, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Seth T..
Author 4 books872 followers
July 14, 2008
When We Were Orphans was, for me, a pretty fascinating exploration of the difficulties typical to the lens of overgrown sentimentailty through which one approaches the vaguely remembered past. As the narration continues, one wonders just how ephemerally Christopher Banks, the narrator, holds his grasp on reality. Quite clearly his recollections of the distant past are modified to fit his circumstances and the man he's become—and paradoxically, the man he's become is a debt owed to these remembered (sometimes falsely so) experiences—but it may be more than that. It may be that the strength of his memories are so robust that they exert force upon even his more immediate experiences, colouring them to match the pallette of the world he's inherited from memoir.

Christopher Banks is (or becomes over the span of years from which he narrates) one of Britain's brightest and most celebrated detectives, solving murder after murder with apparently little trouble. The man is quite plainly a rational genius. He does, however, have a great single ambition that propels him through his life—one that even drove him to his successful occupation. Banks hopes to one day tackle the most daunting crime of his life. The kidnapping of his parents.

When Banks was a youth, living in the British Settlement in Shanghai just post the turn of the twentieth century, his parents were taken from him. As an adult, Banks intends to return to Shanghai, solves the disappearance, and even perhaps have his parents restored to him.

As an abstract exploration of the nature of both history and memory, When We Were Orphans is an entirely worthwhile investigation, but my favourite conceit of Ishiguro's here was something far less integral (perhaps) to the story's primary goal. Banks throughout the telling speaks of this case and that, a series of murders and mysteries in which he is engaged to solve. Each one is solved to the adulation of British society and to the forwarding of Banks' reputation as one who understand intrinsically the criminal mind. And yet. Not once are we treated to any explanation of the details of such crimes or their solutions. While Ishiguro keeps us at arm's length from such unseemly designs (for they are not among his purposes in this tale), he takes special care to continuously draw our attention to the fact of such crimes and cases, perhaps foreshadowing the fact that it is the effect of the circumstance rather than the solution that truly matters in the end.

Perhaps finding solutions to tragedies do nothing in the end to soften the brute fact of the tragedy?
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,438 reviews4,062 followers
August 28, 2021
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“I had always understood, of course, that the task of rooting out evil in its most devious forms, often just when it is about to go unchecked, is a crucial and solemn undertaking.”

As much as it pains me to admit this...I didn’t particularly care for this novel. While it is written in Kazuo Ishiguro’s trademark prose, which is both eloquent and introspective, the more I read and the less invested I felt in the story and in particular in Christopher Banks, our narrator and protagonist. It saddens me not to have enjoyed When We Were Orphans as I consider Ishiguro to be an excellent writer and certainly a favourite of mine. Then again, Ishiguro himself said that “It's not my best book". Still, while I wasn't expecting When We Were Orphans to be as poignant as
The Remains of Day or Never Let Me Go, I hoped that I would at least find it to be an engaging read.
At first I was intrigued by the narrative. Although Christopher is a famous detective his investigations are only alluded to. This itself is very unusual and it subverts the reader's expectations. Usually, when a book revolves around a detective chances are that whatever case(s) they are working on will be a central part of the story. Here instead Christopher’s job is treated like any other job. It is Christopher himself who is a mystery. Ishiguro introduces us to certain aspects of his life, for example at first we read many scenes in which he is socialising at glitzy parties or events. The story begins in the 1930s England and Christopher is slowly making a name for himself. We learn that he is an orphan and that he grew up in the International Settlement of Shanghai. As with other novels by Ishiguro our narrator finds himself recollecting a certain period of his life, in this case is childhood. He reconsiders figures and scenes from his past, scrutinizing and questioning his own memories, re-experiencing specific episodes both through the uncomprehending eyes of a child and through his newly acquired adult perspective.
Scenes from his past are interspersed throughout Christopher’s narrative. In the present he meets Sarah, a young woman who also happens to be an orphan. Sarah seems intent on upward social mobility or so we can assume given that she expresses a wish to marry someone of importance. We also learn more of Christopher’s circumstances.
Throughout his careful examination of his past Christopher remains a somewhat remote and cautious narrator. Usually I find cold or detached narrators to be right up my street (such as with Brontë and Kincaid’s Lucys) but Christopher’s opaqueness seemed a bit contrived at times. He remains a half-formed thing for much of his narrative. For instance, when he is thinking of childhood it is Akira who steals ‘the sh0w’. Child-Christopher remains an amorphous figure, who possesses no discernible traits.
Still, I appreciated the way he considers the limitations of memory, how certain events are coloured by later ones, how some incidents will always remain unclear.
What seems to drive his remembrance is the loss of his parents (the exact nature of which we learn quite late in the narrative). The second half of the novel sees Christopher back in Shanghai and here things take on a hazy quality. While in the first half there are many time skips, I never felt that I was missing out on any vital scene. Once Christopher is Shanghai however I started to feel mildly annoyed by how many things happened off page. Nothing is explained to us, we are simply made to go along with Christopher and his outlandish plans. He finds himself in the midst of the Second Sino-Japanese War and kind of loses his marbles. He makes foolish decisions and behaves in an abhorrent fashion. I could not for the life of me believe that he felt any particular strong feelings for Sarah. During his earlier reminiscence I did not feel his grief or anguish when he considered his parents. And yet, all of a sudden, it seems imperative for him to uncover the truth. The more ill-behaved he became the more antipathy I felt for him and the book as a whole. This character change was abrupt and doubtful. While Christopher never struck me as a particularly likeable or kind person he seemed a level-headed and sensible person. And then he just becomes this increasingly tyrannical, inconsiderate, and impudent man.
The mystery was anti-climatic and the story lacked a cohesive structure or at least a rewarding storyline. Christopher remains undeveloped and uninteresting, while the secondary character seemed mere devices. Take Akira for example...his role in the story is disappointing. At the end especially he just ‘puffs’, vanishes, disappears. Christopher doesn’t think of him or their last encounter.
Nevertheless Ishiguro’s prose is certainly refined and, to begin with, thoughtful. His dialogues always ring true, from the words they use to express themselves to the vernaculars they use, even when the motivations of his characters don’t. He certainly succeeds in evoking the society in which Christopher moves, as well as the cultural differences between England and China. While I didn't particularly enjoy this novel I still consider Ishiguro to be one of the best writers 'out there'.
Profile Image for عبدالخالق كلاليب.
Author 6 books738 followers
November 26, 2018
[لكن بالنسبة لأمثالنا, فمصيرنا أن نواجه العالم كيتامى, يطاردون لسنوات طوال ظلال الآباء الغائبين].
هذه العبارة الحزينة ترد في الصفحة الأخيرة من الرواية. ومن الممكن اعتبارها جوهر الرواية والهدف النهائي من كتابتها, فإيشيجورو كتب رواية عن اليتم كمدخل إلى ضياع الهوية والبحث عن الجذور.
رواة كازو إيشيجورو موصومون دائماً بتشوش الذاكرة. هكذا قيل عن روايات إيشيجورو كلها. ولكن الراوي في هذه الرواية يعاني مما هو أكثر من مجرد تشوّش, إنه يعاني, وعلى حد تعبير الراوي نفسه, من تشوه الذاكرة. ذلك التشوه الذي يعيد تشكيل الماضي كما قد يرغب الراوي وليس كما قد حدث بالفعل.
الراوي _كريستوفر بانكس_ رجل إنكليزي عاش طفولته في شنغهاي, وصديقه الوحيد آنذاك كان طفلاً يابانباً يدعى أكيرا, غريب مثله في شنغهاي, الاثنان عادا إلى موطنيهما الأصليين فيما بعد ولكن كليهما ما زال يعتبر أن شنغهاي هي وطنه الحقيقي. إنها الطفولة التي تأبى مفارقتنا وتلقي بظلالها على حياتنا كلها مهما امتدت, إنه الماضي ما يشكل مستقبلنا. هكذا أراد إيشيجورو أن يقول. إيشيجورو الكاتب البريطاني من أصول يابانية والذي عاش حياته كلها في بريطانيا ويكتب باللغة الإنكليزية وتشبع بالحياة البريطانية(متزوج من اسكوتلندية) ولكنه ما زال يبحث عن اليابان(ليس اليابان الحقيقية ولكن يابانه هو, يابانه الخاصة والغائبة في ضباب الماضي), راويه ,بانكس, يعمل تحرياً خاصاً_ شخصية نمطية في الأدب الإنكليزي_ ويوجه جهوده وقدراته كلها وخبراته التي اكتسبها من قضايا كثيرة ناجحة قام بحلها من أجل قضية واحدة, قضيته الخاصة, البحث في ماضيه, متجاهلاً بإصرار وسذاجة الأمور الخطيرة كلها التي تحدث في العالم الحقيقي من حوله, حتى إن ذاكرته وهو يسترجع سنواته الماضية خلال بحثه ذاك تجعل من حل قضيته الشخصية للغاية أمراً أكثر أهمية بكثير من الحروب التي تدور في كل مكان وتمهد لحرب عالمية كبرى, إنه يعيش في شرنقة خاصة من الذكريات لا تسمح لأي شيء آخر بالدخول إلى حياته حتى الحب, الذي يتخلى عنه من أجل أوهامه الخاصة التي يلاحقها في كل مكان.
عمل الراوي كرجل بوليس سري خاص يعبر عن العقلانية الغربية التي تخضع كل شيء للعقل والمنطق والتمحيص البارد والعلم ولكنها فعلياً لا تؤدي إلى الحقيقة لأنها منغلقة على نفسها ولا ترى شيئاً من حولها سوى ذاتها فقط, إنه العقل بلا روح ولا مشاعروبالتالي فهو طريق يؤدي إلى الكارثة والتي لا يدركها مع ذلك حتى وهو يعيش في خضمها, حتى أن الراوي يستخدم العدسة المكبرة في عمله في فحص كل شيء, حتى الجروح البشرية, يرى التفاصيل الصغيرة مكبّرة ولا يرى الحقائق الكبرى الواضحة حوله. نقد مبطن وقاسي وعنيف. والجانب الآخر لا يسلم من النقد أيضاً, أكيرا بغيابه وظهوره وغموض مصيره يصل بنا إلى النتيجة ذاتها. تشوه الماضي سيؤدي بالضرورة إلى تشوه الحاضر, المعادلة بسيطة, إنه اليتم الذي يؤدي إلى العقم. (ثمة ملاحظة, الراوي والمرأة التي أحبها والفتاة الصغيرة التي تبناها, أيتام كلهم, وبلا ذرية كذلك, لا زواج ولا أبناء, وهذه ليست مصادفة.)
رواية معقدة وعظيمة, مؤلفة من طبقات عديدة من الوعي والمعنى, لا تفصح عن نفسها بسهولة, أسلوبها مراوغ ويتم الانتقال فيها عبر الزمان والمكان بسلاسة ويسر وموهبة فذة وفريدة يمتلكها روائي كبير يستحق قراءة معمقة وهادئة ومتأنية.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews768 followers
November 15, 2018
This was not my first read, although it was a while before I realised. After muttering grumpily to myself that Ishiguro surely can't have written TWO books in which someone called Christopher returns to Shanghai where his parents had mysteriously disappeared I had to concede that no, it was the selfsame one that I have a vague memory of reading while ill in bed? Perhaps? Or was it not my feverish, hallucinatory state that I remember, but rather the disturbing unreliability of the narrative...

Much has been said before about the so-called unreliable narrator: this time round I felt that Christopher Banks - such a preposterous name for a preposterous character - is actually delusional. The hints of a mismatch between his and others' view of the world were too heavy handed, too clangingly obvious, duh. I get it. His view of himself and his place in history, in English society, in the world is radically at odds with reality.

But then.... Ishiguro is quite the opposite of heavy-handed normally. Subtly sophisticated. And I think there's more than the apparent mystery going on here, more than a suspense driven puzzle to be solved and tied up and forgotten. This is a damning indictment of colonialism and a whole generation of young men deluding themselves into believing that they were making a valuable contribution to society when in fact they were living off illegal earnings from drugs and prostitution.

You can never go back.

Profile Image for Kuszma.
2,278 reviews171 followers
December 29, 2021
Gyárlátogatás az Ishiguro Finommechanikai Művekben. A regény első kétharmada kész precíziós szerkezet, egy merő epikai remeklés. Türelemmel épített feszültség, hajlékony mondatok, amelyek tökéletesen lefedik azt a jelentéstartalmat, amit az író nekik szánt. Christophert, a magánnyomozót látjuk Londonban lófrálni, visszaemlékezésein keresztül pedig felépül egy nosztalgikus törtarany fényben úszó Sanghaj, egy gyermekkori baráttal és a szülőkkel, akik rejtélyes körülmények között tűntek el – ez az eltűnés pedig a titok, ami egyre csak nő, nő a finoman felépített próza paravánja mögött.

Aztán Chistopher jó hosszú előjáték után nekiveselkedik, hogy végre valahára elutazzon Sanghajba, lezárni a múltat. Meg akarja oldani az ügyet, az Ügyek Ügyét, az általa megoldott összes bűntett öreganyját. A paraván tehát ledől. De mi van mögötte? Egyrészt természetesen a történelem, amely ebben az esetben határozottan antagonistaként tetszeleg, gonoszul vihog, miközben mindenféle mocsokságot követ el. Az időpont ugyanis 1937, a japánok már megtámadták Kínát – a második világháború már elkezdődött, csak épp ezt még Európában senki nem vette észre. Nem különösebben alkalmas választás egy távol-keleti kiruccanásra, maradjunk annyiban.


A kizökkent idő pedig kizökkent regényt kíván: szaporodnak a motívumok, amelyek egyáltalán nem illeszthetőek be a szöveg eddigi ritmusába, sőt, ami azt illeti, helyenként egyenesen abszurdnak, életszerűtlennek hatnak. Mintha Ishiguro dramaturgiai hibákkal és/vagy következetlenségekkel szeplősítené a cselekményt – de hát valószerűtlen, hogy egy hibátlan regényszerkezet megszerkesztője az utolsó harmadra elfelejtse, amit addig tudott. Sokkal valószínűbb, hogy ez a szétesés metaforája: ahogy a szereplők emlékeiben élő Sanghaj atomjaira esik, úgy veszíti el értelmét az a logika is, ami a regény addigi világában még megfelelt. Másfelől pedig paródiája a nyugatiak magabiztosságának, akik azt hiszik, velük az égadta egy világon semmi baj nem lehet, mert megmenti őket saját éles eszük és „fehéremberségük”. Úgy libbennek be idegen kultúrák összecsapásaiba, mint úri ficsúr a matrózkocsmába, ahol épp nagyban megy a csihipuhi, és azt hiszik, egyedül ők alkalmasak arra, hogy a csehó törzsközönségét lecsendesítsék. És csodálkoznak, amikor hozzájuk vágnak egy hokedlit.
Profile Image for Julie.
2,015 reviews38 followers
May 16, 2023
The story takes place in England and Shanghai, China. Christopher Banks has become a celebrated detective, however one mystery haunts him, as it remains unresolved after many years. His parents went missing in old Shanghai city when he was a young boy and he grew up as an orphan.

Banks determines to finally unravel the mystery of what happened to them and travels to wartime Shanghai where he believes they are being held. Everything he has believed about their disappearance has a childlike quality to it. Eventually, he is forced to confront the reality and leave innocence behind. Wonderfully narrated by one of my favorites, John Lee.

Favorite passage:

While determinedly trying to reach the place where he thinks his parents are being held Banks is caught in the conflict. He comes across a soldier being ill-treated whom he recognizes from the past and attempts to rescue him, only to have to release him to a Japanese colonel who comes to his aid. When questioned about how he knew this soldier Banks responds,

"I thought he was a friend of mine from my childhood, but now I am not so certain. I am beginning to see now many things are not as I supposed." The colonel nodded, "Our childhood seems so far away now, all this, he gestured out of the vehicle, so much suffering. One of our Japanese poets, a court lady many years ago, wrote of how sad this was. She wrote of how our childhood becomes a foreign land once we've grown."
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