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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
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Performance

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Story

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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.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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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

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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??

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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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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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

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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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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.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Beautifully written. Excellent story.

This story about English detective Christopher Banks delves into his family's history during their time in Shanghai when he was a child and his efforts, as an adult returning to Shanghai, to piece together the mystery of his parents' disappearance years before. The narrator is excellent, including with his Msndarin and Japanese accents. Very interesting story. Well done.

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True Detective

Love Ishiguro. He takes on the detective story head on, looking at it through his typical themes of frustrated sexuality and the intertwinement with politics and class, always subtle except in a few harsh moments when truth blazes through and we want to look away.

Some plot twists seem improble, even contrived, but in the mode of the grand literary tradition we are meant to take these as keys to understanding how great forces intersect. I think it works, but just barely.

Christopher Banks is sent back to Britain from his life growing up in Shanghai, after his parents disappear mysteriously due to an encounter with a rich Chinese figure in connection with their struggle against the opium trade which is, of course, paying their income indirectly. He sets out to become a detective, succeeds, meets a young woman who is also an orphan, but doesn't make a match with her. He then goes back to Shanghai to at last search for his parents and meets her again where she is in an unhappy marriage. The improbable overwhelms the obvious, and he learns about his parents. There - enough said.

Don't read it for the plot, read it for the characters, and the brilliant presentation of the relation between childhood and adulthood. As such it is as good a piece of detective work as the other Ishiguro works I've read or seen: Remains of the Day and Never let me Go.

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