First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Renowned London detective Christopher Banks was born in Shanghai at the beginning of the twentieth century, and lived there relatively happily until he was orphaned by the disappearances of his father and mother. Now, more than twenty years after leaving Shanghai, he is a celebrated figure in London society; yet the criminal expertise that has garnered him fame has done little to illuminate his understanding of the circumstances of his parents’ alleged kidnappings. Banks travels back to the seething, labyrinthine city of his memory in hopes of recovering all he has lost, only to find that the Sino-Japanese war is ravaging Shanghai beyond recognition – and that his own recollections are proving as difficult to trust as the people around him. Masterfully suspenseful and psychologically acute, When We Were Orphans offers a profound meditation on the shifting quality of memory, and the possibility of avenging one’s past.
Yes, it is already the weekend! Finally, another workweek is done! Time to ditch those corporate attires and don comfortable articles of clothing. Before everything else, I hope that the week went in favor of everyone. I hope that everyone is ending the week on a high note. Else, I hope that you will spend the weekend recovering or resting. Funny when you think about it, how our lives have been reduced to a cycle of toiling at the office (or school) and a brief reprieve that breaks the rhythm. Nevertheless, I hope that everyone spends their weekend completing tasks that are not related to their job or pursuing what they are passionate about. For me, it is going to be the typical weekend spent reading books, watching random videos, and, well, catching up on my writing.
Speaking of reading, I will be capping the work week first with a fresh First Impression Friday update before I can officially dive into the weekend. I am currently in the midst of a venture across Japanese literature, one of my favorite parts of the world of literature. It all started in April – I usually hold this in July, my birth month – when I traveled to Japan. The previous month was spent reading the works of Japanese writers whose oeuvre I have not previously explored. It was a productive reading month and by the end of the month, I completed reading thirteen books, the most I read in a month since I started reading. For May, I have been reading the works of familiar Japanese writers. I have, so far, ticked off works by Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, Natsume Sōseki, Yōko Tawada, Keigo Higashino, Shūsaku Endō, and just recently, Yasunari Kawabata, the awardee of the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature.
From one Nobel Laureate in Literature to another, I decided to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans after I completed Kawabata’s The Old Capital. While the 2017 Nobel Laureate in Literature identifies as a British national, he is ethnically Japanese; he was born in Nagasaki to Japanese parents before they moved to the United Kingdom. With When We Were Orphans, Ishiguro is extending his record as my most-read Nobel Laureate in Literature. The novel is my eighth novel by Isighuro, thus completing all his novels; he has one other book, Nocturnes, a collection of short stories. My second most-read Nobel Laureate is Kawabata, who broke the deadlock with Gabriel García Márquez although García Márquez will again tie Kawabata later this year; I have, so far, read six novels by Kawabata.
Back to When We Were Orphans, Ishiguro’s fifth novel. I have said this before. Ishiguro fascinates me with the diversity of his works. He wrote futuristic pieces built around artificial intelligence (Never Let Me Go and Klara and the Sun). He also wrote works of historical fiction (A Pale View of Hills), literary fiction (The Unconsoled), and even fantasy (The Buried Giant). In When We Were Orphans, he is yet again offering a different but still palatable cuisine. I was surprised when I realized that When We Were Orphans is basically molded in the detective fiction model. With its diversity, Ishiguro’s oeuvre feels like a representative of the diversity of Japanese literature, one of its many facets that I love.
Set in the early 1900s England, the heart of the novel was Christopher Banks, an Englishman who worked his way into becoming a successful detective by the 1930s, the year we first meet him. Through flashbacks, we learn about his childhood. Prior to living in England, Banks lived with his parents in the Shanghai International Settlement in China in the early 1900s. His father worked for a European company notorious for importing opium to China. His mother, on the other hand, was a staunch advocate against the opium trade. When Banks was barely ten-years-old, his parents disappeared, one after the other. Uncle Philip, the business partner of Banks’ mother and with no biological connection with the Bankses, sent the young Banks to England to live with his aunt. He left behind Akira, his only friend.
These are, so far, the facts that have been laid out in the story. So where does the detective fiction part fit in? Sure, the main protagonist is a detective but that is not enough to categorize the book as such. I am guessing that, as the story moves forward, circumstances will reel Banks into Shanghai. After all, bits and pieces are pointing toward this conclusion. For instance, he asked an acquaintance who came from Shanghai if he had met Akira. There were several mentions of Shanghai in the first hundred pages of the book; it is how far I have read the book. I wouldn’t be surprised if Banks will return to the city he grew up in. There is also a mystery to solve: the disappearance of Banks’ parents. This is a further incentive for Banks’ inevitable return to Shanghai.
I still have quite a long way before I complete the novel. I am expecting that a lot more will happen and that the action will pick up as the story moves forward. I can’t wait to see how the story pans out; after a disappointing experience with Klara and the Sun, I badly want Ishiguro to redeem himself. Thankfully, so far, so good. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. Again, happy weekend everyone!