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An Artist of the Floating World Paperback – September 19, 1989

4.3 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro offers readers of the English language an authentic look at postwar Japan, "a floating world" of changing cultural behaviors, shifting societal patterns and troubling questions. Ishiguro, who was born in Nagasaki in 1954 but moved to England in 1960, writes the story of Masuji Ono, a bohemian artist and purveyor of the night life who became a propagandist for Japanese imperialism during the war. But the war is over. Japan lost, Ono's wife and son have been killed, and many young people blame the imperialists for leading the country to disaster. What's left for Ono? Ishiguro's treatment of this story earned a 1986 Whitbread Prize.

From Publishers Weekly

Like figures on a Japanese screen, the painter Masuji Ono and his daughters Setsuko and Noriko are fixed in the formal attitudes that even their private conversations reflect. In the postwar 1940, the father is a relic of traditional Japan, of teahouses, geishas and patterned gardens not yet destroyed by industry and Westernized thinking. He is unable to communicate with his daughters, unsure of the propriety of his wartime nationalism yet unwilling to exchange it for what seem to him doubtful modern values. His thoughts turn to the optimism of his student days, to uncertainties and disappointments that were mitigated by his sense of a prevailing order, now nowhere apparent. He cannot fathom why his daughters treat him with a disdain that approaches rudeness, why they imply that he and his kind were responsible for the war that killed so many sons, his own among them. And so, despite the rigidity of Ishiguro's prosewhich matches Ono's inflexibilitythe once famous artist gathers pathos as he moves through the pages of a novel that is both a reminder and a warning. Ishiguro wote A Pale View of Hills.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage International; 1st edition (September 19, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722663
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of six novels, including the international bestsellers The Remains of the Day (winner of the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go. He received an OBE for service to literature and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read "An Artist of the Floating World" twice in one week, once in fascination and once more to explore the nuances and subtleties that characterize Kazuo Ishiguro's novels. This short work, Ishiguro's second novel, was short listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. Both a character study and an intriguing glimpse of pre-war Japan, in many ways it is a Japanese parallel to Ishiguro's highly successful third novel, "The Remains of the Day".
Ishiguro enjoys slowly revealing his characters through their recollection of events long past. The memories are often fragmented, sometimes hazy, someimes simply untrustworthy. In "An Artist of the Floating World" the situation is further complicated by the tendency of its protagonist, Masuji Ono, to misinterpret his own memories.
"An Artist of the Floating World" is a portrait as Masuji Ono saw himself, and as he believed that others saw him. It is three years after Japan's defeat and Ono is preoccupied with the negotiations around his younger daughter's proposed marriage. Last year Noriko's marriage negotiations with another young man were unexpectedly treminated by the groom's family. Almost without self-awareness, Ono begins to question whether his artistic support of the imperialistic movement in the thirties and during the war now places his daughter's prospects in jeopardy.
Although Ono sees himself as a modest man, he overstates the impact that his military and patriotic art had in conditioning the Japanese people for the impending imperialistic war effort. It is never quite clear just how popular and widespread his war posters actually were. In contrast, Ono seems incapable of recognizing the magnitude of his crime against his best student, Kuroda, whom he betrayed to the authorities.
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Format: Paperback
What happens when legitimate art turns into propaganda and can propaganda be considered legitimate art? What happens to the artist who ventures into propaganda when his side loses the political battle? Can he still create art for art's sake?
These are some of the questions explored in An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro's excellent novel of postwar Japan and the musings/fate of a renowned artist who, having served the imperial cause during the war, is now very much suffering for it.
Ishiguro writes with an excellent blend of economy and descriptive language that wastes no words or passages on tangents or irrelevance. He creates postwar Japan so vividly it is a true "you-are-there" read. Very rarely are authors capable of weaving such realism into a non-contemporary setting. It's also a very fast moving story, in spite of the fact that in terms of action there is very little. You come to know and understand the characters so completely that it simply adds to the effect of the realism.
A classic work by a very talented writer.
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"An Artist of the Floating World" is a beautiful little novel, written in typical Ishiguro style, with the calm surface waters belaying the rapid current that flows beneath. It is an interesting style that attempts to ape classical Japanese literature, infusing it with Ishiguro's innate Brittishness, coming from being born of Japanese parents but raised in Britain.
As with his other novels, and part of his style, a knowledge of historical events is taken for granted on the part of the reader. Allusions are made to once-famous or infamous events and people, and names are dropped with the understanding that everyone is intimately familiar with WWII and the cultures of Japan and England.
The title is a bit misleading, as the "Floating World" is usually associated with the Edo period of Japan, and not with the Fascist era of Showa. Anyone expecting Geishas and Samurai will be disappointed.
A very quick and quiet read, "An Artist of the Floating World" is something than can be read over a weekend with a cup of green tea. It contributes a viewpoint, and a necessary one, to WWII Japan and paints a human face onto a troubled period of history. Love and family and duty are on display here, along with good intentions leading down dark paths, and the righteousness of actions and re-actions.
Like "Remains of the Day," "An Artist of the Floating World" is an intimate, beautiful character sketch. Very much worth the limited time needed to enjoy the book.
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Format: Paperback
In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro serves up a fascinating look at pre- and postwar Japan. The novel is the story of Masuji Ono, an artist and devotee of the "floating world" of Japanese nocturnal pleasures. Prior to the war, however, he was a propagandist for Japan's war effort, and this is in different ways haunting him in the wake of defeat. The war now over, Ono is older and left to reflect on the past and his present. He lost his wife and son in the war, and is now living with one of his daughters. It is a time in which the young blame their elders for the mistakes of the past, and no longer accept the validity of the floating world-which was all but destroyed by 1945. What then is there for Ono?

The novel begins three years after Japan's defeat, and Ono is deeply involved in the negotiations of his younger daughter's proposed marriage. In the previous year his other daughter, Noriko, had her planned marriage abruptly cancelled by the groom's family. Ono now begins to wonder whether his artistic support of Japan's war effort is now putting at risk his second daughter's chances.

The most poignant moment in the book revolves around his relationship with Kuroda, his star art pupil, who was betrayed by Ono to the authorities. Ono attempts to justify the years that Kuroda spent in prison by rationalizing that those years now give him credibility in the new Japan.

Ishiguro, who left Nagasaki at age 5 and moved to Britain, evokes a time and place and feeling with a deft and loving touch. An Artist of the Floating World documents the inner life of one man, and portrays the changing cultural attitudes. Whitbread Prize winner Ishiguro was shortlisted for England's Booker Prize for this work. Ishiguro pulls back layer after layer to reveal memory, or fragments of memory, that have profound meaning. Beautifully written.
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