Go to Homepage   Kazuo Ishiguro: When We Were Orphans


Crescent Blues Book ViewsVintage Books (Paperback), ISBN 0375724400

Orphaned in Shanghai, Christopher Banks finds himself shipped off to England for an education. He spends his school term at St. Dunstan's unwittingly making acquaintances that will later allow him to break into society through the back door.

Book: kazuo ishguro, when we were orphans
While the other boys join their families for school holidays, Christopher spends breaks at his aunt's dreaming about Shanghai and plotting his future as a famous detective. Schoolmates present him a magnifying glass for his birthday, calling him Sherlock Holmes behind his back. They consider him an object of pity and ridicule.

After graduating St. Dunstan's, Christopher's classmates embark on their separate paths. Imitating a childhood hero, Christopher's path leads him into the past, circling continuously around the suspicious circumstances of his parents' disappearance.

Intrigued by childhood memories and promises, Christopher delves into the murky past of Shanghai where his father, employed by the prestigious firm, Morganbrook and Byatt, vanished. Loyal to his childhood Japanese friend, Akira, Christopher vows to recover the irrecoverable. Determined, he struggles to defeat the evil forces seething beneath the surface of society by isolating right from wrong.

Christopher's successful investigation into the mystery of another Englishman's death leads to social recognition. He receives an invitation to a snobbish bash -- the annual Meredith Foundation dinner.

Book: kazuro ishguro, an artist of the floating world
Infamous for dropping men like hairpins, Miss Sarah Hemmings gatecrashes the same dinner by threatening to make a scene. Once inside, she snubs Christopher, but clings to Sir Cecil Medhurst. Together, these characters twist the plot into a tangled yarn.

Although well-established and situated in England, the faces and streets of Shanghai continue to haunt Christopher. He hears echoes of peculiar conversations. Fragments of memory form incomplete pictures: his uncle abandoning him in a crowded market; running home to find the empty house; the disappearance of his mother and the silence of the servants. Nothing makes sense.

An old news clipping with a photograph triggers memories long hidden. Christopher packs for Shanghai. Although the city remains the same, the world has changed. Childhood heroes appear to have vanished into opium dens controlled by the insidious Yellow Snake.

Set when the sun never set on the British Empire, Kazuo Ishiguro places the enigma at the heart of Christopher's mystery within the historical framework of the Opium Wars just before the Communist takeover in China. Written as memoirs, the characters' psychology provide the drama as the story leads the reader through crooked streets and twisted plots until the final confrontation between Christopher and his insidious enemy, Yellow Snake.


Click here to read Lynn I. Miller's review of When We Were Orphans

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