"An Artist of the floating world" by Kazuo Ishiguro.The wikipedia entry on this book makes it all seem very simple and obvious. I didn't find it that way when I was reading it.

As on old man, the Japanese artist Ono finds that his daughters seem to feel that he has did something wrong a year or two earlier, something that caused the engagement of one of them to fall through. They don't know what he did, and they keep asking about it. They don't accept that the fiance's family simply felt too inferior marry into the family of someone of Ono's reputation. Ono's puzzled. It seems a perfectly reasonable explanation to him.

Times have changed during Ono's lifetime. When he was a child he had to sit and listen to his father explain business to him. He broke away from his father's expectations and became an artist instead. Then he broke from the artistic tradition he was in to join another school. There seems to be some tension between the artists, and some vague falling out between friends.

After a while it becomes clear that the great art Ono is talking about is just propaganda for the war effort; posters mainly.

Ono has a grandson who is hooked on American westerns and movies. This is a reflection of how times have changed. Instead of hating Americans, the modern generation embraces western culture. Even Ono's daughters are less traditional in their outlook. They don't even think Ono ever had the great reputation he claims to have had. His daughters' doubt causes him to look for proof of the things that mattered in his life, but he is old and perhaps his memory is not what it was, or perhaps there are somethings he just won't look at.

The wikipedia entry says clearly that he was a right wing propagandist and police informer. That makes sense of what happens in the story, but in my reading of it the matter wasn't so clear. The concerns he expresses are about his art, and that he did what he thought was right to support his emperor and country in a time of war. What it was that he did, exactly, is a little unclear.

It's an OK book, but an early one of Ishiguro's and not his greatest.

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