Who wrote this book and when?
Kazuo Ishiguro wrote “An Artist of the Floating World” in 1986.
Has there been a movie made of it?
Not yet. It would be very tough to make a film of this story while staying true to its tone and the plot…it would be either very long or very confusing to the average filmgoer.
Who are the main characters?
Masuji Ono – a once famous, and now slightly infamous artist in Post WWII Japan
Setsuko – Ono’s oldest and married daughter
Noriko – Ono’s youngest and unmarried daughter
Ichiro – Setsuko’s son, who idolizes the Lone Ranger
Kuroda – one of Ono’s former pupils, he now despises Ono and will have nothing to do with him
What is it about?
The novel is divided into four sections, spanning a little over a year and a half. Each section represents a change and allows Ono to change his opinion in some way. At the beginning of the novel, we see Ono considers himself a very influential person. His family lives in the house of a once rich and famous man and they attained it by the merits of their honorable reputations. He is in the middle of trying to arrange a marriage for his youngest daughter, Noriko, after the first one inexplicably fell through.
Ono tells us, in a roundabout manner, of his past as an artist and his present opinions of what is happening in post-war Japan. We learn about his involvement in the war propaganda for Imperialist Japan and how it is impacting him and those around him even today. The book discusses Ono’s denial, discovery, and acceptance of his guilt in supporting an evil cause by following his ideals instead of tradition.
Why is this book a classic?
This book isn’t recognized as a popular classic yet, although time and further understanding should elevate it to that status. It was very hard for me to find information on its background online, mostly because Ishiguro is mainly known for his novel “The Remains of the Day.” But this novel is beautiful in both its tone and its moral. It is one of the most “human” novels I’ve ever read – real and poignant, funny and sorrowful. Ishiguro leads you to fall in love with, pity, and become exasperated with Ono all in one pen stroke.
Why should I read this book?
To see a perfect example of the unreliable narrator. This is right up there with Huck Finn – we are able to see precisely why, how, and when Ono realizes his culpability in the war effort and the extent to which it has affected those around him. Read this book to understand a little better the minds of those in Japan during World War II.
Has it won any awards?
It has won the Whitbread Book of the Year award, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
It might be tough for some raised to think in the Western Hemisphere to understand what the big deal is with Ono working for the war effort. The only thing in our history it can be compared to is the reaction of Americans to those who fought in and supported the Vietnam War. Our sense of what is right and honorable is quite different from that of the Japanese.
Getting personally involved in this book was hard for me at first; I’m such a plot oriented person that I kept searching for the point of the book. It wasn’t until I abandoned the preconceived ideas I had about what the book should be and allowed it to be what it was that I began to feel an attachment to it. (A good lesson for any avid reader to learn over and over again…) Ono is one of the most human and real characters you will ever come across. Ishiguro makes no point to hide Ono’s faults, and we see the psychology presented in the novel is flawless – Ono comes to conclusions in a realistic time and manner. He is not a fictionalized character sprung from the artist’s fantasy – he lives and breathes in the pages of the book.