An Artist of the Floating World

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From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prizewinning novel The Remains of the Day
 
In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II.

Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the aftermath of that war, his memories of his youth and of the "floating world"—the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise. Indicted by society for its defeat and reviled for his past aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Sep 5, 2012
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Pages
208
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ISBN
9780307829061
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Language
English
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Genres
Fiction / Asian American
Fiction / Historical / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The second novel from the critically acclaimed New York Times–bestselling author Chang-rae Lee.

His remarkable debut novel was called "rapturous" (The New York Times Book Review), "revelatory" (Vogue), and "wholly innovative" (Kirkus Reviews). It was the recipient of six major awards, including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN award. Now Chang-rae Lee has written a powerful and beautifully crafted second novel that leaves no doubt about the extraordinary depth and range of his talent.

A Gesture Life is the story of a proper man, an upstanding citizen who has come to epitomize the decorous values of his New York suburban town. Courteous, honest, hardworking, and impenetrable, Franklin Hata, a Japanese man of Korean birth, is careful never to overstep his boundaries and to make his neighbors comfortable in his presence. Yet as his story unfolds, precipitated by the small events surrounding him, we see his life begin to unravel. Gradually we learn the mystery that has shaped the core of his being: his terrible, forbidden love for a young Korean Comfort Woman when he served as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II.

In A Gesture Life, Chang-rae Lee leads us with dazzling control through a taut, suspenseful story about love, family, and community—and the secrets we harbor. As in Native Speaker, he writes of the ways outsiders conform in order to survive and the price they pay for doing so. It is a haunting, breathtaking display of talent by an acclaimed young author.
Growing up in a time between wars, Sam Hamada finds that the culture of his native Japan is never far from his heart. Sam is rapidly learning the code of the samurai in the late 1930s on the lush Hawaiian Islands, where he is slowly coming into his own as a son and a man.

But after Sam strikes out for California, where he meets Keiko, the beautiful young woman destined to be the love of his life, he faces crushing disappointment---Keiko's parents take her back to Japan, forcing Keiko to endure their attempts to arrange her marriage. It is a trial complicated by how the Japanese perceive her---as too Americanized to be a proper Japanese wife and mother---and its pain is compounded by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which ignites the war that instantly taints Sam, Keiko, and their friends and family as enemies of the state.

Sam himself is most caught between cultures when, impressed by his knowledge of Japanese, the U.S. Army drafts and then promotes Sam, sending him on a secret mission into a wartime world of madness where he faces the very real risk of encountering his own brother in combat.

From the tragedies of the camps through to the bombing of Hiroshima, where Sam's mother and siblings live, Sam's very identity both puts his life at risk and provides the only reserve from which he can pull to survive. In this beautifully written historical epic about a boy in search of manhood, a girl in search of truth, and two peoples divided by war, Sam must draw upon his training, his past, and everything he has learned if he's ever to span his two cultures and see Keiko, or his family, again.

British writer Kazuo Ishiguro won the 1989 Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day, which sold over a million copies in English alone and was the basis of a film starring Anthony Hopkins. Now When We Were Orphans, his extraordinary fifth novel, has been called “his fullest achievement yet” (The New York Times Book Review) and placed him again on the Booker shortlist. A complex, intelligent, subtle and restrained psychological novel built along the lines of a detective story, it confirms Ishiguro as one of the most important writers in English today. London’s Sunday Times said: “You seldom read a novel that so convinces you it is extending the possibilities of fiction.”

The novel takes us to Shanghai in the late 1930s, with English detective Christopher Banks bent on solving the mystery that has plagued him all his life: the disappearance of his parents when he was eight. By his own account, he is now a celebrated gentleman sleuth, the toast of London society. But as we learn, he is also a solitary figure, his career built on an obsession. Believing his parents may still be held captive, he longs to put right as an adult what he was powerless to change as a child, when he played at being Sherlock Holmes — before both his parents vanished and he was sent to England to be raised by an aunt.

Banks’ father was involved in the importation of opium, and solving the mystery means finding that his boyhood was not the innocent, enchanted world he has cherished in memory. The Shanghai he revisits is in the throes of the Sino—Japanese war, an apocalyptic nightmare; he sees the horror of the slums surrounding the international community in “a dreamscape worthy of Borges” (The Independent). “We think that if we can only put something right that went a bit awry, then our lives would be healed and the world would be healed,” says Ishiguro of the illusion under which his hero suffers.

It becomes increasingly clear that Banks is not to be trusted as a narrator. The stiff, elegant voice grows more hysterical, his vision more feverish, as he comes closer to the truth. Like Ryder of The Unconsoled, Ishiguro’s previous novel, Banks is trapped in his boyhood fantasy, and he follows his obsession at the cost of personal happiness. Other characters appear as projections of his fears and desires. All Ishiguro’s novels concern themselves with the past, the consequences of denying it and the unreliability of memory.

It is from Ishiguro’s own family history that the novel takes its setting. Though his family is Japanese, Ishiguro’s father was born in Shanghai’s international community in 1920; his grandfather was sent there to set up a Chinese branch of Toyota, then a textile company. “My father has old pictures of the first Mr. Toyota driving his Rolls-Royce down the Bund.” When the Japanese invaded in 1937, the fighting left the international commune a ghetto, and his family moved back to Nagasaki.

When We Were Orphans raises the bar for the literary mystery. Though more complex than much of Ishiguro’s earlier work, which has led to mixed reactions, it was published internationally (his work has been published in 28 languages) and was a New York Times bestseller.
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