Book Review: When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans

“The past may be set in stone, but our memories of it are not.” Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro is famous for writing stories that contain this truth. The shifting nature of memory certainly sits at the center of his feverish mystery novel “When We Were Orphans.”

Narrated by (the fictional) Christopher Banks, a famous detective in Britain between the two World Wars, as journal entries dated from 1930-1958. His parents mysterious disappearance when he was nine leaves Christopher was orphaned in Shanghai. His father was a businessman within the colonial opium industry, and his mother was a society crusader committed to ending that very industry.

Christopher leads us to believe that his parents’ disappearance resulted from their stand against powerful interests within the opium trade. But his accounts of his childhood reveal both self-doubt and over-confidence about the facts of his past. I began to mistrust his reliability as a narrator as more inconsistencies emerge. His active imagination and proclivity for creating elaborate detective roleplaying games as a child also help to create doubt in the mind of the reader.

After Christopher is sent to England to live under the guardianship of his Aunt, his games turn into the real ambition of becoming a detective. Upon graduating from Cambridge he steadily gains influence in London society, becomes part of a fashionable “set”, and solves many high profile cases. Nevertheless, he is haunted by a desire to uncover what happened to his parents. Part of Christopher remains lost in his childhood remembrances and fantasies, and he determines that he must return to Shanghai—he must scour the city as well as his own memories.

On his arrival, Shanghai is teetering on the edge of chaos and absurdity, and serves as an analog for Christopher’s confused state of mind in the latter half of the book. Ishiguro depicts the city as it was during July 1937, just as the Second Sino-Japanese war is breaking out in the streets. The very space of Christopher’s childhood trauma collapses around him as he aimlessly attempts to sleuth out clues. In vivid passages describing rubble-strewn streets, Christopher is a man wandering inside a constantly shifting labyrinth. And no detective work can be done when no leads can be followed.

“When We Were Orphans” is almost self-revelatory at times—I found myself wondering about the nature of my own past, while reading about Christopher trying to recreate his. Such thoughts are somewhat uncomfortable, but also provoking and satisfying. By the time I reached the end of this unconventional mystery novel, I felt as though I’d travelled far with Christopher and personally.

The call number for this book is PR6059.S5 W47 2001, and it lives on the third floor.

- Zach McNay, Access Services Specialist

New Library Discovery System for 2014

Dear Members of the SPU Community,

Beginning January 1, 2014, we will have a new search tool for finding materials in the SPU Library and Summit libraries. Our library is one of the 37 Summit libraries transitioning to this shared system, which will enhance the discovery and sharing of resources within the Orbis Cascade Alliance.

The new interface is similar to our current SPU WorldCat system and other search tools you may have used before: you search for books, articles, and more using a single search box and then select from various options to filter your results.

Here are some key changes to be aware of once the new system is live:

  • The “Classic Catalog” and SPU WorldCat will be replaced by the new system after December 31. Learn more here.
  • Signing in with your SPU username and password will maximize your search experience. Learn more here.
  • You will see new “Get It” and “View It” tabs under each title to help you access and request items. Learn more here.
  • Journals A-Z will become eJournals A-Z. Learn more here.

Additional information and guidance is available here.

If you have questions or feedback, please speak with the liaison librarian for your area or any member of the library staff.

Michael J. Paulus, Jr.

Q&A with Library Staff: Zach McNay

FaceZach McNay joins the SPU Library staff as our new Access Services Specialist. Learn a little bit about him below in our Q & A interview:

What are some things you are responsible for in your new position?

I am the weekend opener. It is a committed and tired crew of patrons that drag their bodies out of bed and into the library on the weekend. I say crew: let’s be nice to each other, and drink our coffee before we meet at the front desk.

I help with various tasks throughout the library, be it updating the library’s website, working to keep the Summit loan program working smoothly, or contributing to an odd post here and there on this very blog.

I’m also responsible for overseeing and training student workers. I want to help them have a positive and memorable job experience—library work can be fun!

What’s your favorite thing about living in Seattle?

I love the neighborhoods of Seattle, and travelling through them, and it’s fun to snap pictures of interesting things one runs across. Usually I begin at my favorite nook, “The Crumpet Shop”, down at the Pike Place Market. If you visit (and you should), try the crumpet with almond butter, marmalade, and blue cheese—simply the best. From there it’s easy to hop a bus to another neighborhood – walking around Capitol Hill I’ve found what is now my favorite music store in the city (Wall of Sound Records). I also stumbled across the Northwest Film Forum cinema and home office (a smaller cousin to the more well known SIFF cinema in lower Queen Anne), which has become a favorite spot of mine for viewing classic and foreign films on the big screen.

I just like knowing where things are in the city. As the years go by my mental map keeps expanding, and that is immensely satisfying. One thing I’ve learned though on my hikes: always bring an umbrella!

Any new book or movie recommendations?

I would recommend anything directed by Whit Stillman. His films are modern comedies of manners (a la Jane Austen), set in the elitist yet charming world of youthful old-money American preppies. We have his first three films, “Metropolitan”, “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco” here at the library so check all of them out and have a marathon. If you’re in a more austere frame of mind, check out “Lancelot of the Lake” directed by Robert Bresson or “Stalker” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

When it comes to books, some of my favorites concern the lives and philosophies of particular filmmakers. I am currently re-reading Andrei Tarkovsky’s filmic autobiography “Sculpting in Time”, but you should certainly check it out once I’m done. Another to devour is the excellent “The Kubrick Façade” by Jason Sperb, an impassioned investigation of the meaning of the films of Stanley Kubrick (my own favorite director). Our collection of books about film at the library is rich and varied so dive in deep!

Halloween Book List

DWCityWith Halloween around the corner, we decided to ask around the Library and see what the staff are recommending for a chilling read. If it’s classics you’re after, we do, of course, have options from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, to volumes by Edgar Allan Poe – but here are some outside the coffin box suggestions.

Snow White, Blood Red, by Ellen Datlow

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

— Christina Nofziger

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

— Carrie Fry

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

— Johanna Staman

All Hallows’ Eve, by Charles Williamspumpkin pumpkin

— Michael Paulus

Pumpkin, Pumpkin, by Jeane Titherington

— Natalee Vick

(More) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell

— Jo Krough

Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories, by Michael Sims

When the Lights Go Out, by H.W. Wilson Co.

— Stephanie Rubesh

Also available through Summit:

Salem’s Lot, Stephen King

— Jake Crammer

House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski

— Kevin Kayahara

Last but not least, check out this book by Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, for a real Halloween scare.

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

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Day of Common Learning

The 12th annual Day of Common Learning welcomed Dr. Thomas Maridada, director of National Education Policy, Practice, and Strategic Initiative for the Children’s Defense Fund, and a renowned leader in the world of education. This year’s theme was “Helping Youth to Flourish”, addressed by various afternoon showcases, a film screening of Girl Rising, and the keynote address “Transforming Our Youth – Transforming Our Nation: Partnering in Service to Invest in the Lives of Our Nation’s Youth”.  Forums covered topics from troubled youth to cultural backgrounds to volunteering to teaching.

This is what Maryann Shaw, Serials Specialist at the Library, had to say about Girl Rising:

Girl Rising was full of harrowing facts and statistics about life in developing countries for millions of girls, as well as personal first hand stories from the nine girls featured. But it also showed that by giving girls an education, their opportunities open up, and the change not only impacts them, but their families, culture and local economies as well. It reminded me how privileged I was to grow up in a community that values girls and supports their education. I loved that each of the girls were paired with a female writer from their country to help them tell their story, sometimes through song, dance, or poetry. Occasionally movies like Girl Rising can leave one feeling disheartened and powerless in the face of so much heartache and injustice, unsure of the best way to help. But Girl Rising shows how the gift of education for girls in the developing world—through advocacy and/or financial support—empowers the girls to be the agents of change in their own story, and in doing so create change for their communities.

The Library also sent out its first ever roaming Circulation Desk.  Related materials and a couple laptops were taken down to Royal Brougham to check books out to interested staff and students after the keynote address.

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If you are interested in more information regarding this year’s Day of Common Learning theme, our Librarian for Business and Education, Cindy Strong, created a reading list of available library resources and the book display on the main level of the Library will carry some of these books until the end of this week.