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When We Were Orphans | [Kazuo Ishiguro]

When We Were Orphans

Christopher Banks, an English boy born in early-20th-century Shanghai, is orphaned at age nine when both his mother and father disappear under suspicious circumstances. He grows up to become a renowned detective, and more than 20 years later, returns to Shanghai to solve the mystery of the disappearances.
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Publisher's Summary

Christopher Banks, an English boy born in early-20th-century Shanghai, is orphaned at age nine when both his mother and father disappear under suspicious circumstances. He grows up to become a renowned detective, and more than 20 years later, returns to Shanghai to solve the mystery of the disappearances.

Within the layers of the narrative told in Christopher's precise, slightly detached voice are revealed what he can't, or wont, see: that the simplest desires, a child's for his parents, a man's for understanding, may give rise to the most complicated truths.

A feat of narrative skill and soaring imagination, When We Were Orphans is Kazuo Ishiguro at his brilliant best.

©2000 Kazuo Ishiguro; (P)2000 Books on Tape, Inc. and HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"John Lee conveys both Banks' intelligence and his uneasy depths in this fine performance, which far surpasses the print version as a reading experience." (AudioFile)

"Goes much further than even The Remains of the Day in its examination of the roles we've had handed to us... His fullest achievement yet." (The New York Times Book Review)

"With his characteristic finesse, Mr. Ishiguro infuses what seems like a classic adventure story with an ineffable tinge of strangeness." (The Wall Street Journal)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (186 )
5 star
 (56)
4 star
 (56)
3 star
 (55)
2 star
 (14)
1 star
 (5)
Overall
3.8 (59 )
5 star
 (21)
4 star
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3 star
 (19)
2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.3 (58 )
5 star
 (28)
4 star
 (18)
3 star
 (11)
2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Everett Leiter New York, NY 05-26-06
    Everett Leiter New York, NY 05-26-06 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    305
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    118
    49
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    10
    0
    Overall
    "Just short of 5 stars"

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable read...whatever is the equivalent of a "page turner" in audibooks. Part of the pleasure comes from the way the narrator, Christopher Banks, looks back on his life and tries to piece together his faded memories. The way that Ishiguro writes this is what makes it so enjoyable. The book is full of colorful recollections of a childhood in Shanghai, as well as a series of adventures as Banks returns as an adult to try to discover how and why his parents had disappeared (thereby making him an orphan) when he was a young child in Shanghai. He undertakes his quest just as the Japanese are invading Shanghai in the late 1930's and parts of the city are war zones with terrible destruction and danger. His insistence on endangering not only himself, but everyone who offers him assistance, sometimes struck me as implausible. Perhaps, I am missing an obvious point being made about the protagonist, but this was the one shortcoming of the novel and the reason I gave it 4 stars, rather than 5. It's really a terrific book to listen to, and the narration is superb. Highly recommended.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim Boston, MA, United States 02-13-10
    Jim Boston, MA, United States 02-13-10 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    121
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    145
    31
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    4
    0
    Overall
    "A Great book well read"

    I've read other listeners' comments that the audio quality was bad and, perhaps its been corrected, but the quality and editing on the version I downloaded in Feb. 2010 was great. As for the dropped pot lines, I'm simply baffled. This is not by any stretch a typical mystery novel and perhaps those comments were submitted by disappointed fans of tidy stories where all details are wrapped up in the last chapter by the omniscient sleuth - who usually gets the girl. Here, our hero is a flawed, accidental, and sometimes pompous, British imperialist who just happens to be a detective but is really just a man trying to understand his place in pre-WWII history in Shanghai. Ultimately he is just an orphan who is trying to find out what happened to his parents who disappeared when he was just a boy. A great novel set in an all too neglected setting in 20th century Asia.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Publius Florida Orlando, FL 12-22-08
    Publius Florida Orlando, FL 12-22-08 Listener Since 2006

    Fight the Power

    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    175
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Interesting book but POOR production"

    Someone decided that all it takes to make an audiobook is to DUMP the CDs to a audio file. They were WRONG.
    DON'T buy a book that is broken into multiple files in MID-SENTENCE. They didn't care, why should you!

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mslamin Bedford, TX 09-20-10
    mslamin Bedford, TX 09-20-10 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    24
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
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    Overall
    "A Lovely Reading...."

    John Lee is a superb narrator. His flawless expertise with a myriad of accents provides an unparalleled listening experience. Moreover, I am a fan of Ishiguro's writing, sometimes a dreamy, flowing experience which lends itself well to being read aloud. So, I'm happy with my choice here.

    However. WHY did audible.com announce at the beginning of my download---in a very chirpy kids' chorus--AUDIBLE KIDS!! Did someone look at the title of this novel and incorrectly ASSUME this was a children's book? What happened, Audible??

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. Smith 05-25-12
    M. Smith 05-25-12 Member Since 2012
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    29
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Disappointing"
    What did you like best about When We Were Orphans? What did you like least?

    I liked the concept of the story, the dependence on an unreliable narrator for the story. However, the story really didn't make sense at time, because you never find out why people treated the narrator the way they did. He got into strange situations that nobody in their right mind would have helped him with, and we never get an explanation as to why.


    What could Kazuo Ishiguro have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    He could have written in something other than the same voice he used to write the female character for Never Let Me Go.


    Did John Lee do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    Sort of. His accents for various non-English characters bordered on racists stereotypes at time.


    Was When We Were Orphans worth the listening time?

    I'm torn. I'm glad I read a piece with its perspective, but I wish it had been better.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RDP VA USA 01-16-11
    RDP VA USA 01-16-11 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
    14
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    258
    12
    FOLLOWERS
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    0
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    Overall
    "Unconvincing"

    Well read, but the plot is completely unbelievable to the point of being absurd. For me, it was a waste of time, even if I admire other Ishiguro novels.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Angela Mountain View, CA, USA 12-07-08
    Angela Mountain View, CA, USA 12-07-08 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    52
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Enjoyable!"

    If you have enjoyed reading Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go (both by Kazuo Ishiguro), you will appreciate When We Were Orphans.

    Written with beautiful language, the plot is very creative. Characters are orginal and very human.

    John Lee read the book in the most wonderful way, bringing characters to life.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan San Diego, CA, USA 02-16-07
    Susan San Diego, CA, USA 02-16-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    2
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    0
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    Overall
    "Don't do it"

    At one point, I thought I was listening to an abridged version and some important details (like people, plot, events) had been omitted. I backtracked a few times because I thought I had missed something. I don't recommend. In fact, I recommend against reading.

    3 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deborah New York, NY, USA 11-07-06
    Deborah New York, NY, USA 11-07-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    45
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    31
    30
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    0
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    Overall
    "GOOD"

    This was a good book. Typical Ishiguro. If you liked his other books, you will like this one too. The narrator was good as well.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. J. Brailsford Shanghai, China 08-26-06
    M. J. Brailsford Shanghai, China 08-26-06 Member Since 2005

    Monk E.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    31
    2
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Banal and inconsistant"

    A waste of time. Many central ideas and major plot lines written into the mystery in an attempt to convince the reader of its depth are left by the wayside with no explaination, leaving only banality.

    0 of 5 people found this review helpful
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