An Artist of the Floating World
In the face of the misery he saw in his homeland, the bohemian artist Masuji Ono envisioned a strong and powerful Japan of the future and put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the devastation of that war, memories of his youth and of the “floating world”—the nocturnal realm of leisure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise as an artist. Drifting in disgrace in postwar Japan, indicted by society for its defeat and reviled for his past aesthetics, he relives the personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward.
In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro offers readers of the English language an authentic look at postwar Japan, “a floating world” of changing cultural behaviors, shifting societal patterns and troubling questions. Ishiguro, who was born in Nagasaki in 1954 but moved to England in 1960, writes the story of Masuji Ono, a bohemian artist and purveyor of the night life who became a propagandist for Japanese imperialism during the war. But the war is over. Japan lost, Ono’s wife and son have been killed, and many young people blame the imperialists for leading the country to disaster. What’s left for Ono? Ishiguro’s treatment of this story earned a 1986 Whitbread Prize.