When We Were Orphans is the second book by Kazuo Ishiguro I’ve read. I waited and waited until I found another book by Ishiguro with the same cover-art. I finally found this one in De Slegte, a second-hand bookshop, it has 334 pages. When We Were Orphans was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in the year 2000.
As a child, Christopher Banks used to live in Shanghai, China in the early 1900s. His father, an opium businessman, and mother disappear and he is left an orphan. He travels to Britain to live with his rich aunt. As a child Christopher vows to become a detective and solve the mystery of his parents’ disappearance. After becoming a famous detective he travels to Shanghai to try to solve the case.
As the novel progresses, Christopher seems more and more detached from reality. His childhood, the disappearance of his parents and the investigation become muddled and it is unclear whether everything that is happening is real or not. Christopher is convinced his parents are alive (after about 10 years) and are held somewhere in Shanghai. He seems to think that finding his parents and resolving the case will lead to a resolution of the Sino-Japanese conflict.
He’s clearly delusional.
The characters feel underdeveloped to me and I didn’t really connect with them (which is probably the reason why I didn’t love the novel). To me, it felt more like I was along for the ride, like I was watching everything happening without completely understanding the characters. There’s a lack of feeling, of emotion in Christopher. The characterization is very poor, I didn’t understand his whole romance with Sarah, why he adopted Jennifer or why he became so frantic in the police station.
Can’t say I loved it. Ishiguro writes very beautifully, elegant and rich, making this novel worth the read. But the lack of emotions and feeling made me feel detached from the story.
How did you like it? Did I miss something here? Ishiguro is a world-class writer and I didn’t love this novel. I feel like there must be something wrong with me.