If you've already read [b:The Remains of the Day|28921|The Remains of the Day|Kazuo Ishiguro|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327128714s/28921.jpg|3333111], chances are your enjoyment of An Artist of the Floating World
will be greatly curtailed. And that is the sheer tragedy of this book.
Replace Stevens with Masuji Ono. Replace a tottering England with a war-ravaged, financially unstable Japan and insert Ishiguro's penchant for allegory. And TADA you have An Artist of the Floating World
This book had potential to be a very emotionally charged commentary on a nation rebuilding itself from its charred (atomic-bombed) remains and reflecting on the flawed ideologies of its notorious past.
But instead it felt like a curious combination of The Remains of the Day
and [b:A Pale View Of Hills|28920|A Pale View Of Hills|Kazuo Ishiguro|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348339374s/28920.jpg|1676317] with little improvisation thrown in.
If in TRotD, Stevens laments living a life devoted to serving a Nazi-sympathizing, Jew-hating Lord with unquestioning loyalty, in AAotFW, Ono san experiences feelings of profound guilt for having created paintings supporting the war and Imperial jingoism. We see Ono repeatedly trying to convince himself that his ideals were not at fault and he only did what his feelings of patriotism (obviously misguided) inspired him to, at the time.
But at the fag end of the narrative, Ono comes to terms with his 'mistakes'
and even ends up offering an unsolicited apology to his daughter's father-in-law at her miai ('marriage interview session' in Japanese).Translation:-
Ishiguro virtually makes Japan get down on its knees and apologize to the world for all its crimes against humanity. The evanescent night life of the pleasure district that Ono san uses as a theme for his paintings is actually a symbol of a 'floating', hesitant Japan about to turn over a new leaf.
I cannot exactly put my finger on the things I did not find particularly appealing about this book. Maybe it's the matter-of-fact tone of Ono's narrative voice which will tend to annoy the reader at some point. Maybe it's the lack of a shadow of grief or an air of melancholy that pervaded the atmosphere of TRotD and A Pale View of Hills
. Maybe it's the glaring similarities with TRotD. Or maybe it's the Booker-nominated writer Tan Twan Eng saying in an interview how he reads this book at least once every year which caused me to have really high expectations.
I had assumed, a book ought to have created an exceptionally powerful impact for it to be Eng's all-time-favorite.
But I guess as a native of Malaysia, he must have strong sentiments associated with any book that so much as touches upon the topic of Japan's shameful past as colonial master of most of east/south-east Asia.
So my advice for the uninitiated will be:- Read Ishiguro's works in order or at least read this one before reading The Remains of the Day