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Encyclopedia > When We Were Orphans
When We Were Orphans
Author Kazuo Ishiguro
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Faber and Faber
Released 2000
Media Type Print (Paperback)
Pages 368 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0571205623 (paperback edition)

When We Were Orphans is a novel by the British-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro, published 2000 (ISBN 0375724400). Kazuo Ishiguro Kazuo Ishiguro (カズオ・イシグロ Kazuo Ishiguro, originally 石黒一雄 Ishiguro Kazuo, born November 8, 1954) is a British author of Japanese origin. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Faber and Faber is a celebrated publishing house in the UK, notable in particular for publishing the poetry of T. S. Eliot. ... Paperback may refer to a kind of book binding by which papers are simply folded without cloth or leather and bound - usually with glue rather than stitches or staples - into a thick paper cover; or to a book with this type of binding. ... Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe; title page of 1719 newspaper edition A novel (from French nouvelle, new) is an extended fictional narrative in prose. ... Kazuo Ishiguro Kazuo Ishiguro (カズオ・イシグロ Kazuo Ishiguro, originally 石黒一雄 Ishiguro Kazuo, born November 8, 1954) is a British author of Japanese origin. ...

Plot Details

The novel is about a British man named Christopher Banks who used to live in Shanghai of colonial China in the early 1900s, but when his father, an opium businessman, and his mother disappear within an interval of a few days, Christopher is sent away to live with his aunt in Britain. Christopher vows to become a detective in order to solve the case of his parents' disappearance, and he achieves this goal through ruthless determination. His fame as a private investigator soon spreads, and in the late 1930s he returns to China to solve the most important case of his life. The impression is given that if he solves this case, a world catastrophe will be averted but it is not apparent how. As Christopher pursues his investigation, the boundaries between fact and fantasy begin to evaporate. Shanghai (Chinese: 上海 pinyin: ; Shanghainese: ), situated on the banks of the Yangtze River Delta in East China, is Chinas largest city. ... Opium is a narcotic analgesic drug which is obtained from the unripe seed pods of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L. or the synonym paeoniflorum). ... A detective is an investigator, either a member of a police agency or a private person. ...

At this time in China, there are wars between the Japanese and Chinese, and Christopher gets caught up in them. Through an old detective from his childhood times, he is able to locate the house of which his parents may be kidnapped. However, this event was a few decades ago but it seems that Christopher still believes adamantly that they are still situated there. On his way, he enters a war-torn police station belonging to the Chinese. After convincing them of his neutrality, he is able to get the commander to direct him to the house of his kidnapped parents. They set off but after a while, the commander does not take Christopher further so he goes alone. Throughout all this, he appears to disregard the commander's words that what he is doing is dangerous, and even appears to be rude to him. He meets an injured Japanese soldier who he believes is his childhood friend Akira. They enter the house only to find out that his parents are not there. The Japanese soldier enters and takes them away.

He later finds out from his uncle that his mother insulted a certain Chinese warlord, who captures her to be his slave. His uncle was the one who deceived them and made sure Christopher was not present when this kidnap took place. His uncle offers Christopher a gun to kill him but Christopher does not take it up. He learns that his father is certainly dead but is unsure about his mother. Several years later, he is reunited with his mother but she does not recognize him. He uses his childhood name 'Puffin' and his mother seems to recognize it. He asks her to forgive this Puffin but she is confused of why she should, Christopher takes this as confirmation that she has always loved him.


In When We Were Orphans Kazuo Ishiguro uses the conventions of crime fiction to create a moving portrait of a troubled mind, and of a man who cannot escape the long shadows cast by childhood trauma. Sherlock Holmes needed only fragments - a muddy shoe, cigarette ash on a sleeve - to make his deductions, but all Christopher has are fading recollections of long-ago events, and for him the truth is much harder to grasp. Sherlock Holmes, pipe-puffing hero of crime fiction, confers with his colleague Dr. Watson; together these characters popularized the genre. ... Sherlock Holmes as imagined by the seminal Holmesian artist, Sidney Edward Paget, in The Strand magazine. ...

The narrative is in the first person by Christopher, and a fantastic one at that. Ishiguro conjures time and place with precise detail, evoking both the exotic atmosphere of prewar Shanghai, festering with the contrast between the arrogant residents of the International Settlement and the Chinese living in squalid slums and supplied with opium by foreign merchants, and class-conscious England, in which one's "connections" depend on family lineage. The novel is yet another book after The Remains Of The Day and The Artist Of The Floating World where Ishiguro skillfully weaves personal joys, sorrows, hopes, anger and turmoil into historical backdrops. In non-technical terms, no matter what the context (whether scientific, philosophical, legal, etc) a narrative is a story, an interpretation of some aspect of the world that is historically and culturally grounded and shaped by human personality (per Walter Fisher). ... ...

It is possible that Christopher deludes himself about many things, such as his conviction that when he "roots out evil," he is "cleansing the world of wickedness." This inclination toward grandiosity is a direct result of Christopher's sense of powerlessness as an orphan. While he is unaware of the connection, he is drawn to mercurial Sarah Hemmings, also orphaned in childhood. In the end, Christopher understands that his vision of reality was distorted, and that his lifelong mission, "chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents," was the inescapable fate of one caught in the toils of historical turbulence.

  Results from FactBites:
Orphans and Orphanages (2557 words)
No distinction was observed between foundlings and orphans in the beginning of his work with the Association of Charity; nor was there any distinction as to the condition of the children that were aided, other than that they were orphans, or abandoned, or the children of the poor.
It is probable that destitute orphans were cared for under this principle, but apprenticing and indenturing were the only solutions of the difficulties arising from the presence of orphans or dependent children.
The same must be said of the asylums caring for the army of orphans found in the large cities, particularly since they serve as shelters during the period of observation, and in the case of handicapped children during a longer period.
Jewish Orphans in Transnistria (1841 words)
Later, when the gathering of some statistics was attempted, many orphans had perished before any data on their numbers or whereabouts could be compiled.
Prior to the arrival of that commission, groups of aimlessly wandering orphans were gathered from the camps and from country roads.
Eventually, a decision was taken to move the orphans from the different camps to a makeshift orphanage, where they would be sheltered in more hygienic conditions.
  More results at FactBites »



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