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An Artist of the Floating World Paperback – September 19, 1989
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The Amazon Book Review
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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.
Good writers abound--good novelists are very rare. Kazuo Ishiguro is that rarity. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, is the kind that stretches the reader's awareness, teaching him to read more perceptively. -- The New York Times Book Review, Kathryn Morton
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This plot summary applies to Ishiguro's impressive second novel, AN ARTIST OF THE FLOATING WORLD. There, Masuji Ono, a master painter, develops and uses his talents to support imperialistic Japan. And, it applies to THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, Ishiguro's terrific third novel, where Stevens, a dedicated butler, provides great service to a disgraced aristocratic household. IMHO, AAotFW is a good novel. But it also reads like a warm-up for TRotD.
In AAotFW, the talented Ono is initially schooled as an artist of the floating world. This is "the night-time world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink which formed the backdrop for all our paintings." It offers "...the finest, most fragile beauty an artist can hope to capture..." But the youthful and idealistic Ono, shocked by poverty in his native city, allows politics to enter his painting. Ultimately, this becomes both the reason for his early prominence and later problems.
Ishiguro organizes AAotFW into four sections: October 1948; April 1949; November 1949; and June 1950. In each section, he uses the dilemma of Noriko, Ono's initially unmarried daughter, to explore and layer the issues of Ono's life, which include artistic integrity, fame and authority, misguided idealism and ambition, guilt and responsibility, and the disappearance and reformulation of the past. In all four sections, Noriko's situation evolves with time. Meanwhile, Ono's concerns become increasingly nuanced and layered. Ultimately, he recognizes that what he once viewed as a highpoint in his professional life--the moment he surpassed his former teacher and father figure--was also his moment of classic hubris.
This is a good novel, albeit not quite as focused as TRotD. Regardless, rounded up to five stars and recommended.
Why is the main character’s grandson so obnoxious, and where does the idea of being a “man”, so important to grandfather/grandson communication, fit in? Sometimes it almost seems like comic relief, or a means of making fun of the grandfather. not worthy of the author.
In reading 'the remains of.....', i was awed by his convincing portral of
the butler's sense of his place in the world of the priviledged.
Whereas, in the 'an artist of .....', I continually sensed that his efforts to portray the artist's perception of his world,
wrecked by the horrors of wwII, were awkward and forced......in his characters attempt to understand
the new ethical standards he now encountered.
But, I do however recommend both books. Especially, 'the remains of the day.'
The marriage negotiations for his younger daughter, Noriko, the year before, were unexpectedly and suddenly called to a halt and he was comfortably assured that the reason for the break was because the other family did not feel their son was sufficiently worthy to be tied to Ono's. However, his older daughter, Setsuko, gently hints that there may be other reasons for the break following the traditional investigations into families that take place during Japanese marriage negotiations. Upon reflection, he starts to wonder if his nationalistic duty as an artist creating military and patriotic art, which provided him with not just fame but respect and influence then, could perhaps now be negatively considered as fascism.
He starts to question his own memories of his youth and his actions in the name of imperialist support for Japan's war efforts.
This is a superbly beautiful work.
Beyond the style, the story does stand on its own. The characters are dynamic and all seem to have their own agendas and motivations. Everything moves towards a climax with a resolution. It's not really evident what that climax is at first but in retrospect it is pretty clear.
The only reason I did not give this novel five stars is due to its frame narrative. I just don't understand why the story is being told and who the audience is. I think most readers wouldn't even notice and I feel kind of bad bringing it up because now it just feels like I'm drawing attention to it... yeah, I'm going to stop now.
Read for the style, stay for the story.