An Artist of the Floating World
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"An Artist of the Floating World" Summary

By Kazuo Ishiguro

fiction | 205 pages | Published in 2012

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the aftermath of that war, his memories of his youth and of the "floating world"—the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise. Indicted by society for its defeat and reviled for his past aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being.

ISBN_13:9780307829061
ISBN_10:0307829065

Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A retired artist in post-WWII Japan grapples with guilt, remorse, and the changing landscape of his country.

Introduction

In "An Artist of the Floating World," celebrated British author Kazuo Ishiguro takes readers on a compelling journey through post-war Japan. This captivating novel explores themes of memory, regret, and the complexities of artistic expression. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Masuji Ono, readers gain insight into a changing Japan and the impact of the country's artistic traditions in shaping both individual lives and the broader society.

Brief Synopsis

Set in the early years after World War II, "An Artist of the Floating World" provides a glimpse into Japan's transition from wartime devastation to its rapid economic recovery. The story takes place in the city of Tokyo and follows the life of Masuji Ono, a retired artist. Ono is known for his past reputation as a prominent figure in the art community, particularly for his work as a painter of the "floating world" - a term that refers to the world of pleasure and entertainment.

As Ono reflects on his life, he grapples with the personal and societal consequences of his art during the militaristic era of pre-war Japan. Through his recollections, readers are transported to a past era where loyalty to the state and conformity were highly valued.

Main Events

EventDescription
Ono meets his former studentOno encounters his former student, Ichiro, who reveals his intention of marrying Ono's daughter. This meeting serves as a catalyst for Ono's reflections on his past, his art, and the impact of his actions on the lives of others.
Ono's daughter gets engagedOno's daughter, Noriko, becomes engaged to Ichiro. This event prompts Ono to consider the repercussions of his actions during the war and his involvement in propagandist art.
Ono faces criticismOno's past as a propagandist artist is exposed, leading to severe criticism and blacklisting. This rejection forces him to confront the consequences of his artistic choices and the values he once held dear.
Ono's involvement in a suicideOno learns of the suicide of a former artist acquaintance, Kuroda. This event further deepens his introspection, causing him to question the role of his art in shaping cultural identity and the impact it had on those around him.
Ono reconciles with his daughterOno reconciles with Noriko, acknowledging his flaws and expressing remorse for his actions. This emotional encounter leads to a sense of closure for Ono and allows him to move forward with his life.

Main Characters

Masuji Ono

  • The protagonist and narrator of the story.
  • A retired artist who was once celebrated for his work in the "floating world."
  • Struggles with his past actions and the societal changes occurring in post-war Japan.

Ichiro

  • Ono's former student and eventual fiancé of Ono's daughter, Noriko.
  • Represents the younger generation's perspective and serves as a catalyst for Ono's reflection.

Noriko

  • Ono's daughter, who becomes engaged to Ichiro.
  • Challenges her father's beliefs and traditions while seeking her own happiness.

Kuroda

  • A former artist acquaintance of Ono.
  • His suicide prompts Ono to reflect on the impact of his own choices and the potential consequences of art.

Themes and Insights

1. Memory and Regret: The novel explores the theme of memory and its influence on personal identity. Ono's reflections on his past actions and the regret he feels for his involvement in propagandist art highlight the intersection between memory, responsibility, and the complexities of personal culpability.

2. Art and Society: Through Ono's experiences, Ishiguro delves into the relationship between art and society. The novel raises questions about the responsibilities of artists and the ways in which art can both uphold and challenge societal norms.

3. Individual vs. Collective Identity: Ono's personal journey parallels Japan's struggle with its own identity during a period of transition. The tension between individual desires and societal expectations is explored as Ono grapples with the consequences of his actions within the backdrop of a changing Japan.

4. Loss and Redemption: The novel explores the theme of redemption as Ono seeks to reconcile with his past and mend fractured relationships. Through his reflections and interactions with others, Ishiguro explores the possibilities of growth, forgiveness, and the potential for redemption.

Reader's Takeaway

"An Artist of the Floating World" offers readers a profound exploration of the human condition, the consequences of our choices, and the power of art to shape societal values. It challenges readers to reflect on their own past actions, consider the impact of their choices, and explore the potential for redemption and personal growth. Ishiguro's masterful storytelling and rich character development make this novel a thought-provoking and memorable read.

Conclusion

"An Artist of the Floating World" provides an insightful examination of Japan's post-war era through the eyes of its protagonist, Masuji Ono. Kazuo Ishiguro masterfully explores themes of memory, regret, and the complexities of artistic expression in a rapidly changing society. Through Ono's reflections, readers are immersed in a world where personal identity and societal expectations collide, prompting profound introspection and consideration of the long-lasting impact of our actions. This powerful novel serves as a reminder of the importance of self-reflection and the potential for redemption and growth in the face of past mistakes.

An Artist of the Floating World FAQ

  1. What is 'An Artist of the Floating World' about?

    An Artist of the Floating World is a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro that follows the life of Masuji Ono, an aging artist in post-war Japan. It explores themes of art, memory, and individual responsibility.

  2. Who is the author of 'An Artist of the Floating World'?

    Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of 'An Artist of the Floating World.' He is a British novelist born in Japan and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017.

  3. When was 'An Artist of the Floating World' published?

    'An Artist of the Floating World' was first published in 1986.

  4. Is 'An Artist of the Floating World' a historical novel?

    Yes, 'An Artist of the Floating World' can be considered a historical novel as it is set in post-war Japan and explores the cultural and societal changes during that time.

  5. What are the major themes in 'An Artist of the Floating World'?

    Some of the major themes in 'An Artist of the Floating World' include the importance of personal and collective memory, the role of art in society, and the individual's responsibility to confront their own actions.

  6. Is 'An Artist of the Floating World' a sequel to any other book?

    No, 'An Artist of the Floating World' is not a sequel to any other book. It is a standalone novel.

  7. Did 'An Artist of the Floating World' win any literary awards?

    Yes, 'An Artist of the Floating World' was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1986 and won the Whitbread Book Award for Best Novel in the same year.

  8. Is 'An Artist of the Floating World' suitable for young readers?

    Due to its mature themes and historical context, 'An Artist of the Floating World' is more appropriate for adult readers.

  9. Are there any film adaptations of 'An Artist of the Floating World'?

    As of now, there are no known film adaptations of 'An Artist of the Floating World.'