After finishing ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell, I took up another Booker Prize contender ‘When We Were Orphans’ by renowned British writer Kazuo Ishigura. I hadn’t read any of his earlier works and I thought of giving this one a try. The story deals with a fictional character, one Christopher Banks, who despite becoming Britain’s foremost detective, is unable to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of his parents during his childhood in Shanghai. The entire work appears to be written in the first person narrative, as if one is reading the personal diary of Banks in his later years, where he recounts the adventures he had faced in his youth and the different people he had met. Set in Britain and Shanghai in the 1930’s, Ishigura starts off well enough, setting up the principal character’s personality and describing the various people he comes in contact with and the numerous parties he has to attend. Particular importance is given to a certain Sarah Hemmings who is a sort of femme fatale and who the protagonist comes in frequent contact throughout his time in Britain and in Shanghai. Ishigura focuses more on the character development of these two principal players instead of giving us details of the crimes that Banks solves and how he becomes Britain’s celebrated detective. The underlying story is his desire to search for his parents and investigate their disappearance. The focus shifts to this only in the final third of the book. I felt that up to the point of Banks reaching Shanghai and conducting his inquiry into his parent’s disappearance, the story was going forward smoothly without much deviation from the main plot point. But the final 80-90 pages were quite fast paced, almost as if the author wanted to finish off his book in a hurry. But on the whole it was an enjoyable, if a little monotonous, read.
Rating – 3.9/5