An Artist of the Floating World (Vintage International)

By Kazuo Ishiguro

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
julie gosling
Today is a good time to go back to Ishiguro’s classic 1986 investigation of Japanese war guilt, as Japan’s current political leaders push their attempt to deny it. A few years after Japan’s defeat in World War II, Ishiguro’s unreliable narrator, a retired artist named Ono, ruminates over his early life and his role in promoting his country’s aggressive militarism. Ono’s rambling recollections take place as he maneuvers to complete arrangements for his daughter’s marriage. He hopes to prevent his mistakes from harming the young woman’s prospects, inadvertently revealing in every step he takes his lack of understanding of what he did. If he achieves peace, is it at the expense of honesty?
Ishiguro is a subtle master of onion-peeling story-telling. He composes narratives that seem slow-moving and non-linear in the extreme, but actually progress emotionally through lightning revelations and reverses. The language, recalling Japanese novels of old like “The Tale of Genji,” seems stilted at first, but as the pages fly by the hidden layers start to become apparent.
The story is set in a nation that is enthusiastically rebuilding and remolding itself after total humiliation and working hard to create a sense of what happened and how it can be prevented from happening again. Ono survived the wreck but now feels beached as he struggles to justify himself to himself. In Ishiguro’s view, mistakes must be faced and corrected not just by the inheritors of the now-submerged floating world but also by those who caused it to sink.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
atlasi
On the positive side it was a good choice for the author to reflect on the artist's role in society particularly when, in Japan, this followed the not always dignified treatment of prisoners of war meted out by the Japanese during WWI.

This is brought out in the conversations between the daughters and their father but there follow no interesting consequences, and no particularly notable moments of real tension or engaging events. This was more a philosophical account of Japan's post war image of itself.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ioana
Kazuo Ishiguro's 1986 novel, An Artist Of The Floating World, which won that year's Whitbread Prize, may be a great novel, but it just misses out on that elite company. Of course, the fact one can make arguments pro and con means the book is worlds above the tripe one would read were the author's surname Oates, Boyle, or Eggers. The reason for the miss, in my mind, is that the novel never fully sores- it never takes that Keatsian leap into the subconscious, to wrench the reader into an experience he or she can get nowhere else. It is consummately written, and its lead character and narrator is very interesting. There really is no fat to trim, yet....there simply are no indelible scenes nor moments that one will recall years later.

As example, I still recall the scents of the Williamsburg neighborhood that Francie Nolan describe sin Betty Smith's A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, even though its been several years since I read that book; I still can recall the final metaphoric scene in Charles Johnson's Oxherding Tale, even though a decade or more has passed since I first read it; and I can still envision the final moments of Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, despite over two decades' passage since I first scanned those words.

Nothing like that occurs in Ishiguro's novel, although his proponents for greatness could claim it's simply not that sort of novel. In a sense, that's true. It is a complex psychological novel that slips easily in and out of the past, even as its first person narrator- a painter named Masuji Ono, is never not the speaker. Of course, the three aforementioned books are also complex novels with psychological heft, which would seem to invalidate the argument pro-Ishiguro readers make, but claimants might also argue that this book is an old man's recitation of his claims to existence, and not a book that reveals the road one travels to get to a certain place, for the artist Ono is already there. In that sense, it strikes commonalities with films such as Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, and Theo Angelopoulos's Eternity And A Day.
The book's biggest weakness: it simply never takes off into a higher plane. An Artist Of The Floating World is immaculately wrought, but its very understated nature undermines its claims to greatness, for by its end it recapitulates one thing that is troubling: not only has Ono not gotten any greater insight into himself, but neither has the reader. Yes, we know more of his externals, but his interior landscape is still a mystery. And there are ways, in fiction, that one can give a reader insight that still eludes a character. Ishiguro's choice to not follow such a path may have been deliberate, but it also may be the slight Achilles' Heel of the book.

However, this novel is well worth a read, and the passage of time, and the sticktoitiveness of some of Ishiguro's subtle scenes and intricate words may prove my initial assessment wrong, even to myself. It may indeed have a staying power as long as the adventures of Captain Ahab and the White Whale. Here's hoping.
Never Let You Go: A Novel :: The Unconsoled :: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery - An Unexpected Cookbook :: An Unexpected Journey) - Art & Design (Hobbit :: RASPUTIN'S LEGACY
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
velda
I had to read this short novel for an English literature course, only to have it pulled off the reading list halfway through me reading it. That I finished reading it anyway may be testament to the fact that I refuse to leave a book half-read but at least some credit has to go out to the book itself. Written by Remains Of The Day author Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist Of The Floating World is basically a story about a retired artist trying to adjust to post-war life in Japan. As the main character's family return to visit him and he begins preparations for his daughter's potential wedding after a disastrous fall through last year, his mind keeps returning to the decisions he made during the war, his collegues and his flowering career.
The way in which Ishiguro so cleverly manipulates the dialogue so that any character digressions into the past never seem forced is masterful. In addition to this, the gentle dialogue and intricate descriptions give a perfect impression of a mannered Japan that is treading carefully after the events of the second world war. Although the persistent references to the overflow of western culture into Japan can become a little tiresome, they don't distract from the overall picture of things. Like any good book that consists of memories the narrative presents them as a way in which the characters can impose order on their own lives in a 'floating world'. Though the pace isn't as fast as some readers might like, this is a very intricate novel that deserves kudos for letting you into the characters' psyches and explaining, or intentionally not explaining, what they did and why.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
michael durham
If you are passionate about your beliefs and if you live long enough, you, too, can be like Ishiguro's Masuji Ono: Cast adrift by the next generation, who reacts to your past triumphs with embarrassed silence.
The beliefs about which Ono was most passionate, however, revolve around his advocacy of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere of the military clique that invaded Pearl Harbor. As an art advisor to the government, he turns in his most talented pupil Kuroda to the police, who torture him before releasing him. For most of the book, Ishiguro delicately reveals in minute increments the truth about Ono's involvement in the past regime and its effect on his life.
What begins as irony softens as the novel comes to an end and we finally discover the worst is over. Ono has survived. Many of his friends have not. "Ripeness is all." The floating world of the title refers to the sweet life of bars and geishas as shown by such Japanese painters as Utamaro, but here also takes on another meaning. Whether one had followed Hitler or Pinochet or Franco or Tojo, the world is full of survivors who floated through their lives taking on the coloration of their milieu.
Ishiguro paints with delicate strokes, but there is congealed blood on his palette.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
roger ouellette
Ishiguro has not written many books, but this, his second effort, is his best. In the first years of post-war Japan, a time of mind-bending social change in Japan, the narrator is hoping to marry off one of his daughters - but there are difficulties that he is hard-pressed to explain. In the book's early pages (flashbacks to the prewar days) the narrator is the picture of the success: He is an artist, someone who has made a reputation creating posters and other propaganda pieces for the Imperial Japanese government. This history slowly comes to light in the narrative. The theme of the novel, and the force that propels the plot, is the narrator's reckoning.
Like most Ishiguro books, this book is written in the first person personal, with an unreliable narrator: It is Ishiguro's very own form, and a winning way to write a novel. Those who have read "The Remains of the Day" will recognize it.
I think that is one of the best novels that I've ever read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
gary theut
This is a nice story about an artist and his relationships with friends, his daughters, old colleagues and grandson after WWII has ended. It is an interesting insight into the mind of someone who was active politicially in imperial Japan who then had to look back on his actions objectively and make apologies for it post war.

The characters are interesting and realistically complex and their interactions are very authentic in how Japanese people relate to each other within and outside of the family.

Anyone living in Japan or who is interested in relating to Japanese people would benefit from the insights gained by reading this book. Having said that, even if you don't have any connection to Japan or Japanese people, I think one of the main themes of personal forgiveness can speak to you on another level as well as many of us are conflicted about things we have done in the past and how to move on with our lives once it has become clear that we had made bad choices.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
kirby
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.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ramit mathur
This is my first Kazuo Ishiguro book and i picked it up with high expectations. This is in most part a slice of life novel as the narrator Ono goes through his daily chores all the while reminiscing about his past life as an art student and then as a propoganda artist at the wartime for Japan, which in itself is not an intriguing plot. But what make this one work is the smooth flow of prose that keeps you occupied without being all too overbearing, flipping page after page to just experience the goodness of it. It just makes you feel for an old timer like Ono who tries hard to be relevant in the current times and justify the same to his daughters and his friends. As he continues to paint every current situation and dialog into his past as he searches for reason. This is a beautiful read to understand the turmoil of a person who is enveloped by his own doubts and reason. Truly, Kazuo Ishiguro has excelled his way into creating a floating world and it is a piece of art.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kira von
'An artist's concern is to capture beauty ... But however skilfully he may come to this, he will have little influence. It seems to be founded on a na?ve mistake about what art can do and cannot do.'
This statement of the main character in this book is also na?ve. The artist is also a member of the community he lives in and he can use or not use the 'little' influence he has.
As his father said: 'Artists inhabit a world which gives them every temptation to become weak-willed and depreaved.'
Another voice adds: 'Artists are on the whole an astonishingly decadent crowd often with no more than a child's knowledge of the affairs of this world.'

The main character in this book 'betrays' his profession by producing work that is 'unflinchingly loyal to his Imperial Majesty the Emperor.'
His talent is abused by those who wish to found a military dictatorship: 'Then the military will be answerable only to his Imperial Majesty the Emperor.'
He even becomes an official advisor to the Committee of Unpatriotic Activities and denounces na?vely ('a talking-to for his own good') one of his pupils, who, being unpatriotic, is arrested and tortured.
But, unlike other war criminals, the painter ultimately admits his responsibility: 'I too was a man of some influence, who used that influence towards a disastrous end. Brave young men died for stupid reasons, but the real culprits are still with us. Artists are the only ones who care now, not army officers, politicians or businessman.'

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a penetrating meditation about the influence of art on a floating world, but also about the human role of the artist in a floating world.
With his indirect, suggestive, restrained floating scenes and sentences the author produced a masterpiece.

Not to be missed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
robynn
The premise of this story is similar to "Remains of the Day". It is about a man, now in his retirement, looking back on his past and rationalizing his actions in the context of a society whose judgement of him is no longer as favorable as it once was. Like "Remains", the actions in question took place in the years leading to WWII. In this case, the protagonist, Masuji Ono, was a talented artist who had lent his talent in producing cultural propaganda for the Japanese imperialist movement. In the post-war years, Ono has become an outcast. Seeking to secure the marriage of his daughter, Ono begins to slowly confront his past and attempts to reconcile it with the effect that it has had on his country. Along the way, Ishiguro explores several themes which are all deftly woven into Ono's recollections : the role of the artist in society, the master-student relationship, the maturization of an artist coming into his own voice, the importance of living a life to make a difference, among others. It also highlights aspects of Japanese society, such as the obligation of the parent, the emphasis on familial reputation in marriage, the proverbial tendency to hammer on the nail which sticks out, the struggle to regain its footing in the post-war years, and the effects of American influence during that time. (Note though that Ishiguro left Japan when he was 6; thus as noted in the backcover, the "Japan" of his fiction is a country of his imagination.)
I read this book on the recommendation of a reviewer who listed this as his favorite of Ishiguro's novels to date. This book, Ishiguro's second, was short-listed for the Booker price before his third "Remains" won it. I felt much more fulfilled reading this. When I read "Remains" a few years ago, I remembered being curiously underwhelmed (though it may not be the fault of the book since I read it after watching the movie; and I myself may well have changed since!..) But this has been a good read for me. It's a masterfully-written book, and as all good books do, helps to enlighten the human condition.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rachel bishop
A very easy-paced read that drew me in through its prose in which the narrator would smoothly and ever so subtly change from one thing to the next. It took me a while to recognize this and even then it would still catch me off guard at times and I would also forget how the narrator even got to a certain topic. This was very enjoyable, however, and is much like how natural conversation works. I got the feeling at times that I was sitting there with the old man-- perhaps in a park, or in his home-- listening patiently to his story; not wanting to interrupt him and disrupt the flow. Incidentally, this also lead to my reading over half of the book in approximately eight hours after initially picking it up.

If you're thinking about starting this book, I don't think you would find yourself disappointed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sue larkins
Enter the mind of an artist at the end of his career. As in The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro tells his story by following the meandering ruminations of the main character, this time an artist who in his search for relevance, becomes a propagandist. He is haunted by guilt at helping lead his country down a destructive path. But how much influence did he really have? And do his daughters blame him or does their annoyance with him have a more domestic origin? How good an artist was he really? How much respect did his students and teachers have for him? Knowing oneself and how others see you is an impossible quest.....
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
ankit manglik
I was anxious to read this Ishiguro novel because of my years living in Japan. However, for me the story line lacked excitement and intrigue. There were many interesting cultural novelties throughout but that was not enough to want to recommend this one. I enjoyed reading The Buried Giant and Never Let Me Go, but this one was a chore to finish.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
baci
Masuji Ono, once a respected artist and teacher, is now forcibly retired after supporting the Japanese imperialist government during WWII by creating war posters. He spends his time negotiating the past and present in the shadow of his former alliance, but never seems fully aware of the weight of that shadow, and the ensuing consequences to his relationships and his own soul. His naive support for the government during the war and resulting shift both in artistic focus and character reveal a man detached from meaning and responsibility, a dreamer whose own loss of a wife and son during the war will likely never be dealt with.

The intellectual transition Ono makes from artist to propagandist is shown when Ono explains his newfound artistic purpose to his former protégé, nicknamed "Tortoise".

This new direction turns out to be the creation of propaganda as art in the service of the imperialists' cause, but Ono is swept away by the more romantic, grandiose description of "....producing paintings of genuine importance. Work that will be a significant contribution to the people of our nation." Ironically, the posters he creates during the war seem to have no lasting artistic merit, but instead contribute to a darker legacy of betrayal and unintended consequences. His unexamined commitment to the government led him to order the arrest of a former student (disloyal to the cause) and, one can argue, indirectly contributed to the deaths of many fellow citizens by adding legitimacy to a destructive, expansionist movement. The degree of miscalculation is predictable since Ono never understood the methods and purpose of the imperialists to begin with.

Profound cultural transitions in Japan during and after the war and questions as to culpability are reflected in Ono's shifting recollections and encounters with various townspeople. Flashbacks depict conversations between Ono and younger Japanese men who are angry that old imperialists are not ashamed of their past transgressions and still prosper, unpunished. These characters relate stories of community leaders loyal to the former government committing suicide in shame, and seem to hint that others should follow.

Ono seems consistently unsure whether these conversations actually took place, and never fails to remark that the words spoken sound like something he would have said. Are these interactions simply an extension of his buried pain and remorse? Was Ono ever a highly regarded man, or was he always a pleasure-seeking fantasist seeking to promote himself no matter the cost? Perhaps his view truly is philosophical, in that he sees the past clearly but shrugs off meaning since the past cannot be changed.

These questions remain unanswered. The author isn't seeking redemption or clarity for the main character, but instead offers a glimpse into the repressed psychology of an artist struggling to avoid the reality of who he is as a result of Japan's defeat by the Americans, and his own abdication of honor, both as an artist and as a human being.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jill mccallum
A peaceful, nuanced and reflective book on a retired Japanese artist who ponders his pre-WWII attitudes and actions, in the context of his family and some of his former colleagues, as well as of Japan's post WWII evolution.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
phyllis calanoy
Everybody has a story, no matter how famous or ordinary the individual is. This great work by Ishiguro gives us the inner workings of the minds of young and old in post-war Japan. The lives of young people living and working toward their dreams are the same with any generation--during a war and after a war. Ishiguro deserves a lot of praise for this work. This would make an excellent film that would appeal to the international audience
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jane green
Certainly, the best of his 4 ( I think ) books to date. Ishiguro's mastery of the use of the English language amazes me. He has added new twist and turns to what would have been a very boring story, if written by others. The story is about a Japanese trying to readjust himself in Japan after the war. I suggest anyone embarking on a writing career to read this book
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
piers
Literary buffs will love all of Kazuo Ishiguro's writings simply because they are so much deeper than they seem to be. "An Artist of the Floating World" is about a retired Japanese artist trying to come to terms with his past (aiding the government during WW2) and trying to make sense of the present (the new Japanese generation who are resentful against him).
I gave the book only three stars because, while readable by all means, it simply fails to be very entertaining which, arguably, is the object of fiction writing. If you love English literature or are writing a research paper on Ishiguro, this book is great. But casual readers should first try "The Remains of the Day," also by Ishiguro.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
audrey yoest
I've only read two of Ishiguro's books, and both are about the same thing: an individual caught out by time, whose ideas and opinions were once mainstream but have become deeply unfashionable. In this case it is a Japanese artist who had favoured the (eventually) disastrous imperialist expansion of Japan that drew the country into the Second World War.

Among the themes explored are the nature of an intolerant, fascist (in the strictest sense of the word) society, and how it affects the people who live in it; the relationship between politics and other walks of life (art); and the pain and confusion of one person who is forced, ever so gradually, to admit that he was wrong.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hien bui
I love Ishiguro. Both this novel and Remains of the Day are spectacular. They are set in different countries, and portray very different characters and customs, but they share the exacting observation and emotional subtlety which Ishiguro masters. Read them both.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
julie dill
Like any good novel, there's many different levels for the reader to consider. From a societal point of view, Ishiguro does a wonderful job illuminating Japan's tendency to hide its past atrocities or collectively try to forget them. At the character level, he brilliantly transforms the protagonist Ono from a benevolent old man who wants to play with his grandchildren into the ignorant, glory-seeking monster he really is (or was). Of course complexities and ambiguities abound, but in the end the reader is forced to take a stand about how he or she feels about Ono. Ishiguro's writing is as good as his storytelling ability.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aliaskhal the flaneur
Brilliant. An Artist of the Floating World describes in a way no other novel has done the blame and contempt heaped upon a generation of Japanese who fought and lost the war. Subtle, with layers of cultural detail, this is a terrific book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
dustin witmer
Ishiguro is a master at impregnating ordinary situations with tension. He does that in this book as well, but ultimately, there wasn't very much to be tense about. This earlier work is not nearly as successful as his later efforts.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
nathan buchanan
One of my favorite writers. This book was full of digressions so sometimes hard to know where it was going but it is worth the read. It touches on Japan history (WWII) and insights the culture and art.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
taylor preston
"An artist of the Floating world" is about the nostalgic indulgence of a delicate artist struggling to do soulsearching
forced on him by the turn of events. But for the traditional style of his daughter's marriage he would not have made numerous trips to his students and colleagues apparently with the mission of "silencing" so that the dubious past is kept away from view.
Its simply the psychological convulsions of a man who finds comfort in his own therapeutic remembrances. The marriage takes place without protests and the man is free of worries.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
n8ewilson
Both of Ishiguro's novels set in Japan are lovely pieces, but for some reason I can't connect with the stories, including, of course, this one. It could be cultural; it could be simply that I'm not ready. I adore all his other work; as a writer myself, I study his narrative voice for its sterling quality. But this is one I would recommend with reservations. I will come back to this eventually and I would wager I will love it.
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