Wednesday, May 24, 2017
An Artist of the Floating World Review #AsianLitBingo
If you've been around long enough, you know that I absolutely love Japan. It probably comes as no surprise then that one of the books I chose to read for #AsianLitBingo was An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, a book following an aged artist set in Post-WWII Japan. This book fulfills the requirements for the East Asian MC category of the challenge.
This book reads like a conversation between you and the main character. The main character, Masuji Ono, tells us his story through his own recollections and this makes the tone of the novel more intimate and, at times, more frustrating. When Ono talked about himself, he was always humble (he's just an artist) but when he recalls what others say of him, it is always glowing praise. Then I realized that, when I read a story, I hear the voices of the characters in my head, almost like a recording. This has its advantages and disadvantages; particularly in that I was unconsciously adding an american filter and tone to everything that was written. Once I realized that that was what I was doing, I was able to reset the tone of the voices to fit more closely with what I had experienced and heard while I was in Japan and that made all the difference to the story. With my american tint on everything Ono said, I found his humble bragging irritating and false. However, when I thought about him in the context of the Japanese culture I had experienced, I realized that the way he spoke and acted was very much in keeping with what the Japanese would consider respectful and polite.
Beyond tone, this story was very poignant. We follow Ono as an old man trying to navigate a Japan that he had never envisioned. Ono tries to reconcile his sense of pride and duty for his actions with a society that blamed him and others like him for the war and expected a certain amount of repentance (and possibly even seppuku to atone). This contrast is made even more stark by the fact that Ono's actions are only ever mentioned with vague comments and innuendo. There are never any direct accusations placed at Ono's feet. Once again, this type of indirect confrontation is typical of what I experienced in Japan, making this story really come to life.
So far, An Artist of the Floating World has been my favorite book of the Asian Lit Bingo reading challenge. The characters were deep and interesting and the story was unique in its plot and telling. I had to give this book 5 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it! I would caution readers to be aware of how their own culture affects their reading of the story though.