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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

An Artist of the Floating World (1986) by Kazuo Ishiguro


Book Review
An Artist of the Floating World (1986)
by Kazuo Ishiguro

   Kazuo Ishiguro's career is a testament to the strength of the novel as an art form.  He was the child of Japanese emigrants to England, grew up in England, never went to Japan, wrote books written in English, set in Japan, then wrote books about England- won a Booker Award for Remains of the Day.  Remains of the Day got made into a movie that turned into a world beater, both critically and in terms of box office receipts.  

    The extent to which An Artist of the Floating World is "about" an actual historical Japan- it is set in an unidentified Japanese city during the American occupation period after World War II- is a matter of some debate.  Ishiguro grew up in post War England- not Japan.  Floating World is written in English. Masuji Ono- the aging painter who narrates Floating World, is coming to terms with his ill-fated participation in the Japanese war effort via his propaganda posters- the Shep Fairey of his day, as it were.

   In the present, he grapples which arise as a result of his un-analyzed role in Japan's disastrous experiment with totalitarianism.  One of his daughters is on the eve of marriage, and he worries that his history will destroy the match.  He makes his way to his former compatriots- including one who was actually imprisoned directly as a result of his denunciation, and eventually acknowledges moral culpability in a very, very, very, Japanese way.

  The question of "authenticity" as it relates to an obviously good novel written by an English language author of Japanese ancestry who was raised in England is a curious one.  I would argue that Floating World demonstrates that the novel- either written in English or translated into English- becomes, in the late 20th century, an art form which transcends the original language. 

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