An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
A fine novel. The first book I've read by Ishiguro, and now I know what the fuss is about.

The most notable thing about it is the subtlety of the telling. For one thing, even though a major part of its subject matter is the brutal military dictatorship of Imperial Japan, Ishiguro doesn't sensationalize, in fact he understates. With a single exception, every scene represents people strolling in a garden, at dinner, in a teahouse, etc. -- talking. (In fact, the narrator Ono was very sheltered, it seems, but such unpleasantness as he encountered he is very reluctant to talk about.) And the conversations are full of subtext. They are the sort of dialog from which the reader can infer much about the relationships of the characters, but you're still left guessing in many cases. Ono gives his opinions in the narration, but his way of telling things tends to be indirect, and the reader puzzles over how well his perceptions match up with other people's, what he really thinks at the time he's talking, what he really thought at the times he talks about.

I know there's a lot more food for thought in this book than I picked up on from one reading. I definitely will reread it sometime. I'm still mulling over my reactions to the ending. Ono is willing to "accept responsibility" for his participation in imperialist propaganda campaigns, but how much, exactly, is he accepting? He states several times that he now sees that what he did was a mistake, but is he just saying that because he thought it would be good for the country, but instead led to them being destroyed by war? He can't be unaware of the very brutal nature, from the top to the bottom, of the dictatorship he supported -- by his own account of Kuroda's arrest, he was naive at the time, but that incident if nothing else had to wise him up. Most people would call that regime not just "mistaken" but morally wrong. I'm not sure whether Ono sees that -- sure, he personally didn't do any of the bad stuff (by his own account he didn't intend to have Kuroda arrested), but he accepts that he was an integral part of it, so therefore he flinches from condemning the moral wrong of the regime he was part of, I think. He's more interested in analyzing why he did what he did. With that context, the optimism of the last chapter is shadowed a little.

But I think I see what gives Ono cause for optimism. He has been talking about how much satisfaction it gives him that he always did what he thought he should do at the time, that he lived up to his own ambitions. The cause that he put his energy in the service of is now condemned, but he says (I think) that that doesn't really matter -- it was doing his best, in itself, that was important, not what in particular he worked for. He sees the young generation with many of the same drives, but in a very different context. He thinks they may achieve great things -- their striving is one constant in a world that is rapidly becoming completely unfamiliar to him.

Do you share Ono's (and, perhaps, Ishiguro's) universalism? I for one don't know.