Skip to content

When We Were Orphans: A Novel

Select Format

Select Condition ThriftBooks Help Icon


Format: Paperback

Condition: Good

Save $12.81!
List Price $17.00

11 Available

Book Overview

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day comes this stunning work of soaring imagination. Born in early-twentieth-century... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

7 ratings

Excellent Ishiguro Narrative

The story itself is not outstanding, but the narrative, the imagery, the sense of place, the jumps in time and the characterization is excellent. I wasn't that interested in what was happening, yet I had to keep reading because of the author's skill to create an atmosphere. I loved the setting and the sense of humor. I can't recall how it ended, to be honest, but I don't think I will ever forget the feelings conveyed by the writing.

chock full of plot conveniences. so overhyped.

This book starts with promise- a rock solid story (guy wants to become the worlds best detective to find his missing parents), a good setting, and a couple of interesting characters. Unfortunately, this book has some of the absolute WORST pacing I've ever read, and it also is CHOCK FULL of plot conveniences. I HATE PLOT CONVENIENCES. Heres my compliment sandwich: The way the book is split between flashbacks to his childhood and his modern day self is really nice and done pretty well. The first half of the book in general does a fairly good job at setting up the plot and establishing characters. However closer to the end the entire thing comes off the rails- the pacing goes crazy, some characters are introduced way later then they should have, and most annoying the amount of things that happen just because drives me NUTS. It culminates into an ALMOST LAUGHABLY silly moment at the end where (without giving away spoilers) a random insignificant side character (if you could even call them a side character) happens to have the exact information required to round the story home. To quote some random article I found "Characters need to be in charge of their own fates. Their circumstances and the story that unfolds around them need to be a direct result of their choices." This story has none of that. To end the compliment sandwich: It has a nice cover. I would maybe reccomend a read if you are okay with plot conveniences, but for most I would reccomend skipping this book.

Another Psychological Masterpiece

I've been trying to figure out why some reviewers thought "When We Were Orphans" wasn't as good as Kazuo Ishiguro's much-loved "The Remains of the Day." After "Remains," we clearly have high expectations of Mr. Ishiguro. But perhaps the difference between the two works is one of immediate accessibility.Both books look at the way certain mental processes affect people. "Remains" concerns a moral sense of rightness and self-denial in a setting we can visualize and understand. "Orphans," I think, demands more from readers. Its overriding theme is the foggy, shifting filter of memory, and this filter takes us into murkier, more complex territory, where we're required to deduce how events have shaped the protagonist's thoughts and motives.When he was still a kid, Christopher Banks, the protagonist, suffered a huge trauma. His parents were kidnapped, and he was then unwillingly plucked from his home in the International Settlement in Shanghai and sent to live with an aunt in England. Being sent away from everything familiar and comforting would have been hard enough, but being sent away must also have silently conveyed that his parents were forever and irretrievably lost.Christopher copes with this by deft acts of self-deception, and we are constantly left to inquire how much of Christopher's memories and perceptions are real. His memories (like all memories) are of what he told himself had happened, rather than uniformly what actually happened. He believes what he seems to need to believe. Here, Mr. Ishiguro brilliantly, and subtly, portrays Christopher as an unreliable narrator, wrapped in a reassuring cloak of illusion.He and his boyhood friend, Akira, for instance, create an impossible scenario where Christopher's father is cared for by his kidnappers as if they were his servants. He recalls a happy boat trip to England, and a smooth merger into English life, when in truth he was a miserable loner, endlessly upset by the loss of his parents, and largely made fun of by his English school chums.When he's in his mid-thirties, Christopher decides to return to Shanghai, find his parents, and liberate them from their kidnappers. Although the plan is futile to the point of being ludicrous, what seems to be going on in Christopher's mind is that he had continually rejected the idea of the permanence of his parents' loss and was trying, on some unconscious level, to put right a world gone completely topsy-turvy that caused him vast pain. Thus, when the effort to find his parents takes a dramatic turn, the events that follow seem natural to Christopher, even as they bring anguish to the reader.There is much more to this book. Events in the world at large partially mirror Christopher's situation. When Christopher returns to Shanghai, it is 1937. It is the eve of World War II, and the world seems to be teetering on the verge of collapse. The Japanese have attacked China, shells are falling, and soldiers are fighting hand to hand. Yet within t

A Brilliant Examination of a Life of Delusions

Christopher Banks is a young boy when his parents disappear, one after the other, under mysterious circumstances, while they are living in Shanghai. Christopher is sent back to England to live, where he grows up, with the mystery of his parents' disappearance constantly erodes his grip on reality. The story is told in a first person narrative, and almost from the start, Ishiguro tips us off to the idea that Christopher may not be telling us the whole truth, that he may not be able to grasp the whole truth. Christopher's story and the way he tells it is fascinating. Ishiguro is able to navigate seamlessly from time frame to time frame. Christopher achieves some notoriety in London (or at least he thinks he has) as a private investigator. He returns after many years to Shanghai, to finally try and solve the mystery surrounding his parents' disappearance. He believes he knows what happened to them, even before arriving back in Shangha. It is his misguided beliefs that lead him into an almost Kafkaesque spiral into unreality and delusion. This section of the book must be read as at least a partial deluded episode because much of what happens is implausible. The book, and Christopher, ultimately return to reality and we understand at least part of the truth of Christopher's life and what happened to his parents. I thought this was a brilliant work, not as a detective novel, but as a character study of someone who has been fooling himself his entire life.

Where Does Reality Begin?

Christopher Banks, the progagonist of Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans, is a man with only one mission in life: he wants to become the world's greatest detective so he can find his kidnapped parents. But were they really kidnapped? And did other, relevant events really unfold as Banks relates them?The central question in this highly entertaining and very different sort of story is: Can Christopher Banks, as a narrator, be trusted? He can be, insofar as he is truthful when reporting events as he sees them. Those words are the key to understanding this book, "as he sees them." For Banks knows no other way to tell us his story than as he sees it, even though as he sees it may not be quite the way others would see the very same thing.When We Were Orphans, like all of Ishiguro's novels, is complex and multi-layered. Many of the book's ideas are symbolic and much lies below the surface. Although extremely entertaining this book is definitely not "beach" reading. It is as cerebral as anything Ishiguro has previously written and it takes an intelligent and austute reader to catch all of the author's meanings, especially in only one reading.I've read all of Ishiguro's books and all are completely different. What they do have in common is absolute excellence in every respect. They are all the master work of a master writer. None should be missed.

When we preferred opacity to clarity

Simply put, a brilliant book. Most novels (rightly so) are like rivers--you jump on and ride the waves, coast through the shallows. WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS is like a still pond. You take your boat out in the middle and (to borrow Thoreau's metaphor) plumb the bottom with a measuring stick--to see if it's solid, to see how far down it goes. In the end, the plot's a simple thing: lost-and-found parents, as it were. But the emotional consequences? The ways the narrator prefers blindness, or a kind of myopic sight, to clarity? Devastating. Beautiful. Words escape me, as his parents do him. I found my time with the narrator to be like my time with any good friend--I never know the whole story, only pieces, more and more as time goes on. I put them together, decide which memories are red herrings, which events are important--all the while listening for the whole that escapes me. Ishiguro's talent reminds me of Jane Austen's: precise, beautiful, small (this is not the right word--not small-minded or country-headed, but rather compact, exacting. The Mona Lisa, not the Sistine Chapel). This novel's rather like a beautiful miniature he's building up, one stroke at a time.


Nagasaki born London based novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has produced animpressive body of work which has brought him international acclaim,as well as a number of coveted awards - the Winifred Holtby Prize ofthe Royal Society of Literature, the Whitbread Book of the Year, andthe Booker Prize. His third novel, The Remains Of The Day, has beencalled one of the most beautifully written in contemporary Englishliterature. The same may be said of his latest, When We Were Orphans,an unparalleled masterpiece of limitless imagination and impeccableprose. In several of Mr. Ishiguro's previous offerings theprotagonist reflects upon his life and the events that have molded it.So it is once more as we meet Christopher Banks, an Englishman whoenjoyed an early childhood of comparative luxury with his mother andfather in Shanghai, China. Their home was owned by Morganbrook andByatt, the British company for whom the boy's father worked, a companywhich seemingly bore some responsibility for the opium trade. As anadult Christopher believes he can remember "a tirade ofcontrolled ferocity" which his mother delivered to an inspectorfrom Morganbrook and Byatt. When the official suggested that shedismiss certain servants lest they be involved with opium, his mothercountered with, "You presume, sir, to talk to me, on behalf ofthis of all firms, about opium?" "Are you not ashamed, sir?As a Christian, as an Englishman, as a man with scruples? Are you notashamed to be in the service of such a company? At the age of nine,Christopher is abruptly left alone when first his father and then hismother mysteriously disappear. The boy is dispatched to the care ofan aunt who lives in England. Christopher meets this tragedy withsurprising equanimity, as he remembers thinking during the voyage toEngland that although he missed his parents "there would alwaysbe other adults I would come to love and trust." Upon completionof his schooling Christopher fulfills his dream of becoming adetective, a famous one at that. But the unexplained disappearance ofhis parents has haunted him and he returns to Shanghai in 1937, at theheight of the Sino-Japanese conflagration, to piece this puzzletogether. He is also in hopes of being reunited with Akira, hisboyhood friend, with whom he spent many happy hours playing fancifulgames of their own invention. And perhaps even locating Mei Li, theamah or maid, who had taken such dutiful care of him. Initially,Christopher's arrival in Shanghai engenders more questions thananswers. But, he does find his friend, Akira, as well as InspectorKung, his childhood hero and the renowned detective who had headed theinvestigation of his father's disappearance. In addition, he doeseventually solve the puzzle. Yet, the heart of Mr. Ishiguro'sintriguing work is not to be found in the unraveling of a mystery, butrather in the labyrinth of human mind and memory - what is real, whatis imagined, what is wished for? When We Were Orphans is the resultof a gifted, medita

When We Were Orphans Mentions in Our Blog

When We Were Orphans in Kazuo Ishiguro Wins 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature
Kazuo Ishiguro Wins 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature
Published by Bianca Smith • October 18, 2017
Last week author, Kazuo Ishiguro received a call most only dream of - he won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature!
Copyright © 2023 Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Do Not Sell My Personal Information | Cookie Preferences | Accessibility Statement
ThriftBooks® and the ThriftBooks® logo are registered trademarks of Thrift Books Global, LLC
GoDaddy Verified and Secured