Artist of a Floating World is a short book set in Japan by an author I like about memories, which is the kind of book I read these days. Bought on impulse, what a shock I really liked it. I think it feels like I’m being interesting or daring reading books about foreign countries in the past (so different from now) but really when that’s basically all you read about these days it becomes pretty tame! That isn’t the books fault though.
The book is set is 1948-1950, Japan just after the Second World War. My knowledge of mid-century Japan is fairly limited but Japan were on the wrong side of WW2, that is to say the losing side, and they surrendered after the US dropped two atomic bombs on the country. Japan then became occupied by American forces.
As an artist he became influential and respected but now some of his pre-war patriotism is out of sync with the modern attitude. Especially, as Japan is rebuilding under the guide of the Americans and many of the young generation of Japanese had suffered as soldiers or POWs.
Anyone familiar with Ishiguros work will not surprised by the style and theme running through the book. It is a first person narrative with our protagonist ostensibly thinking about recent events such as a visit from his daughter or bumping into an old student but allowing his mind to wander and get lost in much older memories. Much of the ‘action’ is spurred on by the marriage ‘negotiations’ between Ono and the Saito family, in the bid to pair up Ono’s daughter (already 26 and still unmarried) and Taro Saito. These negotiations give insight into the formal, and somewhat unromantic machinations to arrange marriages, with each family hiring detectives to ensure the other is acceptable. It is within this context that Ono faces up to difficult episodes from his past in an effort to ensure the successful marriage of his daughter.