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Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World

It’s only his second work but here is a writer clearly in control of his medium, facing the perennial question of the responsibility of the artist and his role in the political events of the day. And, of course, as it is Ishiguro, it is about memory. Indeed, the story starts with how the hero (if that is the right word), Masuji Ono, purchases a house from two sisters who are more concerned with the quality of the purchaser than the money they receive and who then continue to take an interest in the house long after they have sold it.

Ono and most of the other characters, like other Ishiguro characters, show the reserve for which both the English and Japanese are known. And, like other key Ishiguro characters, Ono is a survivor. Before the war, he is very much in favour of Japanese imperialism. He supports the government, so much so that he turns his best pupil into the police. After the war, however, he and others who supported the government are criticized for the sufferings that people suffered and continued to suffer for some time after the war. As he wanders the city, it is not so much his wife (killed in a bombing raid) or his son (killed fighting the Chinese) that he regrets. It is something more complex – part of which (but not all) is his role as an artist and as a teacher. It is only when his daughter is planning on getting married and worried that her father’s past may hinder her prospects, that he realizes that he must, as all Ishiguro heroes, try to come to terms with his memories.

The concluding sentences of the book are Our nation, it seems, whatever mistakes it may have made in the past, has now another chance to make a better go of things. One can only wish these young people well. The artist, floating in his world, must come to terms with the real world and accept that there is a real world out there.

Publishing history

First published 1986 by Faber & Faber