When we Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

When we were Orphans image


[Published 2001 by Faber & Faber; first published 2000]


I like to think that ‘When we were Orphans’ gives readers an idea of what ‘Never Let me Go’ and ‘The Remains of the Day’ must be like. If the quick pace and allure of style in this book is anything to go by, I can’t wait to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s other works.


Christopher Banks is the son of a businessman in Shanghai whose company is involved in the controversial opium trade. When his parents disappear, he is sent to England to live with his aunt and never lets go of his childhood aspiration to become a detective (undoubtedly somewhat fuelled by the desire to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his parents) and he makes a name for himself amongst the British elite for his abilities to do justice in the face of evil.


Set in the pre-WWII years, his drive to root out evil in a world still shattered by the First World War is widely revered, and one cannot escape an immense sense of hope, optimism, and humanity at his return to Shanghai to finally investigate the fate of his parents. Christopher’s memories mingle as clues in the greatest mystery of his career and life. In the course of exploring these memories, the multicultural, international community of pre-war Shanghai is revealed, which sheds light on how fractured society could be and how identity in a conventional sense can be lost as a result of colonialism. Where does Christopher belong?


This story is about persevering in an evil world, making a difference (if only in your own life), and the legacy left by a personal trauma. As the plot unfolds, we bear witness to a story where the pursuit of truth is paramount – one that is shocking, moving, and holds relevance even if transposed in today’s context.


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