Kazuo Ishiguro’s, “An Artist of the Floating World,” is as different from the first novel I read by him, “Never Let Me Go,” as night and day. It’s not nearly as imaginative, not as descriptive, and the settings and cultures are not nearly alike.
The writing is simple, the message and subject matter are quite astonishing in an underlying way. The one similarity for me was that both books left me dazed, and it took me some time to truly comprehend what I had just read.
The title, “An Artist of the Floating World,” is a reference to the pleasures, entertainment, and alcohol indulged in by the painters and artists who have been chosen to study with prominent masters and their art reflects the celebration of physical beauty.
The main character, artist Masuji Ono, does not want his paintings to be solely about beauty, and he breaks with his master and his great gift as a painter become a symbol of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II.
It is three years after the war is over that the story begins. Masuji Ono is an older man with one daughter married and another daughter in the process of getting married. His son was killed in the war, and his wife is dead. His once celebrated works are now reviled, and the prominence of his ‘name’ have taken a serious blow. It is during this time that he reflects on his life and art, and whereas he accepts that his blind loyalty to the government, businessmen, and soldiers was wrong, it is still difficult for him to relive his past with only regrets and sadness.
For one not very well acquainted with Japanese culture, this book was like a history lesson, and Masuji Ono represents not only the culture of the past, but the enlightenment of the future generations through his daughters and grandchild.