I have just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, An Artist of the Floating World published in 1987 and it is as relevant today as then.
Integrity, a value which isn’t discussed very often these days is a thread that weaves through this story. Masuji Ono, a retired artist, believes he is an honourable man who is challenged by the shifting values of the world he is now living in.
Having survived the Second World War in Japan, Ono takes the reader with him as he reminisces about his early life as an artist and the actions he took during his professional career. Slowly, falteringly as an older person might speak, we begin to understand his concern for his daughters and the impact his pre-war propaganda painting career could have on their future happiness. He remembers family, old friends and rivals, and explores past relationships secure in their values while trying to accommodate the rapidly changing attitudes of the post-war Japanese generation and their attraction to the Americanisation of their culture even to discussing Popeye with his grandson.
Ishiguro nudges the reader to consider their past lives through Ono’s thoughts and conversations including those on a compatriot’s suicide and of his turning in a pupil to the authorities for anti-war activities. In these days of virtue-signalling, you the reader are forced to consider your life and the decisions and actions you may have taken when viewed from the perspective of current values which have changed. It made me wonder how my life will be judged by the next generation who will not have the background knowledge to understand why I lived my life as I did.