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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 3.9 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    140
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    102
  • 2 Stars
    31
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Performance

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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    164
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    83
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    31
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    7
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    4

Story

  • 3.8 out of 5.0
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    94
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    91
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  • 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.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jim
  • Boston, MA, United States
  • 02-13-10

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.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Brilliant author, perfectly read.

I am reading all books by this amazing author, after rereading "Remains of the Day".

This novel and the narrator were a perfect match.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

good but challenging

Already read Never Let Me Go, so when certain things seemed a bit off-kilter I was prepared for something unexpected. Really worth the challenges. The narrator enhanced experience greatly. Glad I read it, especially in this format.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

contrived

Certainly unexpected turn of events and the book is not predictable in any way. However, the storyline never really develops. I always felt like the climax or the actual point of the book would be reached. It was a disappointing read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

It will haunt me forever

Quite gripping and disturbing novel. I wasn't able to put it down...or turn it off, as it were. A remarkable book and the narration splendid. It will haunt me.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • 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!

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Great Reading of a Not So Great Story

Lee's performance is terrific. His excellence carried me through much of the last half of this novel. I shall almoat certainly select my next audiobook from one he narrates.
Ishiguro's story is... disappointing to read. About three quarters of the way through I decided this was the work of a man who was not really feeling his story, but simply writing out something hastily plotted. This is the first of Ishiguro's novels that has failed to completely floor me, or reduce me to an awed, wet-eyed devotee.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Something Different

from Isihiguro, but intensely engaging and well-written. He does what he always does best: creates a dynamic little world and peoples it with incredibly believable and engaging characters. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful