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Book review: <i>An Artist Of The Floating World</i> by Kazuo Ishiguro

Set in Japan right after the second world war, An Artist Of The Floating World draws you gradually and effortlessly into the life of Masuji Ono, a renown yet now disgraced artist from imperialist Japan. The story begins in a manner that suggests that this story is just going to be a fairly standard set of reminiscences from an old man, but the twisting narrative style and artful teasing-out of the story a bit at a time turns this simple and beautiful tale into a heartbreaking and joyful experience to read.

The content

Masuji Ono has a good life; he enjoys his house, his daughters, his grandson, his walks. He also enjoys reminiscing about the past; when he was a renown and prominent artist and lived much of his life in the “Floating World” of the night time pre-World War Two party scene. He speaks of his friends, his daughter’s marriage arrangements, his relationships with his teachers and students, and gradually pieces together a story that speaks of great upheaval, betrayals, and a new world order, in which those who preached the greatness of Imperial Japan were revered. However, all that has changed now, and his daughters worry that his involvement in this world will affect their marriage chances, or that he will follow so many other previously great men who are now outcasts. Masuji Ono describes all this in a round-about yet methodical, passionate yet peaceful, and sad yet resigned and contented way.

Kazuo Ishiguro has that talent for speaking few words and managing to paint a world in full, minus any pretensions or falsity. In a minute 200 pages, he portraits Masuji Ono, and the reader is pulled completely into the story of this man and his life. Because of Ishiguro’s genius for spooling the story out a little at a time, the reader is left wanting to know more the whole time, and I found this particularly engaging because I have only a rudimentary knowledge of post World War Two Japan and most of my knowledge of Japan, in general, centers around Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima. It was really enjoyable reading a book that features war but isn’t focused solely on it; and the artist’s life is far more interesting anyway. An Artist Of The Floating World is beautifully written, thoroughly engaging, and I only wish it had lasted a bit longer. It was so nice to read something good!

Who is this book for?

I have to admit, I do enjoy that spate of family-saga-from-foreign-culture novels that have emerged over the last few years, Amy Tan and whatnot. This one is sort of along these lines, except less saga and less pages. It is still a sneak peek into a culture and a time that I will never be able to experience though, and it is such a modest story that it compels you to read by sheer lack of grandstanding. So anyway. If you like stories of experience from a different historico-cultural perspective than your own, this is a winner. It is also good for the more discerning of you who are finicky about historical accuracy in you literature—because it is a personal story it feels authentic and doesn’t pre-suppose.

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Check back later when I’ve worked it out. I’m assuming you won’t like just anything and are pretty discerning, I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong!

In short

Title: An Artist Of The Floating World
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage International
ISBN: 0679722661
Year published: 1986
Pages: 206
Review Type: