Thursday, September 11, 2008

An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro

"I cannot recall any colleague who could paint a self-portrait with absolute honesty; however accurately one may fill in the surface details of one's mirror reflection, the personality represented rarely comes through as others would see it."

As a retired artist of the imperial war machine, Masuji Ono must now redraw his own self-portrait to come to terms with his new life in post-war Japan. With the great cause of his life discredited, with his years of artwork packed out of sight, his children can only offer the consolation that he wasn't all that significant and certainly doesn't need to commit hari-kiri to atone like many of his peers.

This book fascinated me on several levels. The writing, with multiple depths to the simple surface of family conversations and recollections.The character study, as Ono is unable to see himself truly, and yet unable to conceal who he really is. The historical and cultural setting.

Most of all it moved me to reflect on my life. As my children get old enough for me to see my own judgments of my parents in their eyes, I wonder what they will think of my life in the end. Will it seem wasted to them? Will I spend years chasing down the wrong goal? They will know me too well to accept the shining mental picture I have of myself, yet I still hope that my "labor will not be in vain" and that I will have something to look back on with content.

In the end Ono does have something worthy he brought through the war, though he never thought of it as his important work: the lives of his two daughters, and then of their children, who will be part of restoring his country.


At 10:38 PM, Blogger Calon Lan said...

Thanks for the review. I loved this book and thought it was a fascinating take on point of view. It built up slowly, with the reader taking in everything the narrator said, until it was clear that he was anything but a reliable narrator.

I'm curious to read The Remains of the Day now.


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