Something Fishy

James Francken

  • When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Faber, 313 pp, £16.99, April 2000, ISBN 0 571 20384 1

China was a surprise to Auden and Isherwood – it reminded them of Surrey. Faber had commissioned them to write a travel book about the Far East early in the summer of 1937. The Japanese invaded northern China in July, capturing Peking; by August the troops had reached Shanghai and the itinerary of the book was decided. With many foreign correspondents already in Spain, Auden was confident that in China ‘we’ll have a war all of our very own.’ But Journey to a War describes how the fighting eluded them – they went to places they had been told were on the front line, but nothing was ever happening when they got there – and how they ended up in Shanghai. The freedoms of the treaty port were disappointing: they were bored by the endless receptions, garden parties and cold buffets. Isherwood came to realise that the ‘appalling atmosphere of suburban Surrey’ masked dissipation:

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