Faber and Faber, trade pb, 197 p.
Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, 1986. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, 1986.
It is 1948. Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War II, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated painter Masuji Ono fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson, and his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet lantern-lit bars. His should be a tranquil retirement. But as his memories continually return to the past – to a life and a career deeply touched by the rise of Japanese militarism – a dark shadow begins to grow over his serenity.I like how one reviewer on Amazon called it a 'fascinating Japanese parallel to "The Remains of the Day"' because I was also reminded of The Remains of the Day while reading it. Granted, I’ve actually only read these two books by Ishiguro, so far, but I did think they had a similar feel to them, a similar coming to terms with the past. Whereas the one is quintessentially British, however, An Artist of the Floating World had a distinctly Japanese feel to it. I’m hardly an expert, having only read a few titles, but like some of the Japanese literature I have read, this was also a beautifully-written, subtle story, calm on the surface but with emotion bubbling beneath.
Through the main character Ono’s usually strained relationship with his daughters we see how the priorities and cultural attitudes, especially of the younger generation, changed as a result of war. His reminiscences of when he was a student of art, and at the beginning of his career, as well as his comments on the city as it is in the process of re-building, provided an interesting glimpse at Japan both before and after the war and ultimately how the different generations dealt with the aftermath of it.
I wavered over giving it a little higher rating, but I did find it a little bit slow in places, so I’ll leave it as is. All in all, it was a quiet, thoughtful novel about trying to reconcile the past with life in postwar Japan. I look forward to reading more by Ishiguro in the future.
‘I have learnt many things over these past years. I have learnt much in contemplating the world of pleasure, and recognizing its fragile beauty. But I now feel it is time for me to progress to other things. Sensei, it is my belief that in such troubled times as these, artists must learn to value something more tangible than those pleasurable things that disappear with the morning light. It is not necessary that artists always occupy a decadent and enclosed world. My conscience, Sensei, tells me I cannot remain forever an artist of the floating world.’Conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro and Kenzaburo Oe
First sentence: 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 gingko trees.
My Rating: 3.5/5
(#8 for 2009, 1% Well-Read Challenge, Book Awards Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge (Artist), Reading Japan Project)
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