Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publication Date: 1986
Page Length: 206 pages
An Artist of the Floating World, written by Kazuo Ishiguro and published in 1986, takes readers back to post-World War II Japan, immersing them in a tale that skillfully interweaves personal and historical narratives. Set in the city of Kyoto, the novel follows the journey of Masuji Ono, a renowned and now retired painter, who reflects upon his past actions and choices as he tries to come to terms with the consequences of his involvement in wartime propaganda.
Divided into three parts, the story begins in 1948, with Ono, now in his fifties, narrating his life experiences. Part I, "Pride and Memory," introduces the readers to Ono's daily life as he interacts with his two daughters and experiences a longing to reconcile with his estranged son, Kenji. The narrative subtly delves into the shifting dynamics within post-war Japanese society, exploring the tension between the older generation's traditional values and the younger generation's growing influence of Western ideas.
In Part II, "The Bridge of Hesitation," the story delves further into Ono's past by exploring his early career as a promising artist, his associations with other painters, and his transition into a propagandist for the Imperial Japanese government during the war. Through vivid flashbacks, Ono recalls his interactions with his fellow artist, Matsuda, who idolized him, as well as his involvement in the creation of government-sponsored artwork that promoted the war effort.
The final section, Part III, "The Mire of Reminiscence," centers on Ono's attempts to secure a marriage for his younger daughter, Setsuko. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes apparent that Ono's connection to the war and his perceived level of dishonor hinder his daughter's marriage prospects. Ono also finds himself revisiting his past alliances, particularly with Matsuda, as he attempts to navigate the guilt he feels over his role in promoting nationalism during the war.
Throughout the novel, Ishiguro explores various themes, including personal responsibility, the impact of political ideologies, and the importance of self-reflection. Ono emerges as a complex character, with his self-deceptive tendencies challenging readers to ponder the ways in which memories can be manipulated to protect one's sense of self.
An Artist of the Floating World not only provides a compelling narrative on an individual artist's journey, but also serves as a critique of a particular time and place. Through Ishiguro's masterful storytelling, readers gain insight into the cultural and political nuances of post-war Japan, grappling with the complexities of personal and national guilt.
In conclusion, An Artist of the Floating World captures the essence of a post-war society and one man's reckoning with his past actions. As readers are transported through the memories and experiences of Masuji Ono, they are confronted with the enduring question of how to reconcile personal ambitions with one's contribution to an ever-changing world. With its thought-provoking themes and compelling characters, Ishiguro's novel offers readers an opportunity for introspection and reflection on the wider implications of individual actions within the fabric of history.