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29 October 2015

Isabel Allende: The Japanese Lover

Tender, touching and sometimes tearful
Isabel Allende is a superb author whose prose is gentle and sometimes almost poetic which keeps the reader's attention at all times. The Japanese Lover is a good example of her work and will keep you absorbed to the last words.

This is a multigenerational tale of love and torment set over the years from before WWII through to the present. With the advent of extreme anti-Semitism in Poland in 1939, young Alma Belasco is sent away from Poland by her parents to live with her rich uncle and aunt in San Franciso. Her older brother Samuel had already been sent away to England where he joins the RAF as a fighter pilot. Her parents finish up in the Warsaw Ghetto and in a concentration camp and are never found.

Many years later Alma unexpectedly leaves her family to live in an aged-care home. There she meets Irina Bazili, a dedicated young care worker who has her own troubled past after she moved from Moldova to live with her estranged mother and pedophile stepfather in the US. Irina joins with Alma's beloved grandson Seth in a search for some of the secrets of Alma's chequered past. The biggest secret is her tender and continuing secret love for Ichimei Fukuda, the son of the family's Japanese gardener.

Slowly Irina and Seth discover the secrets of Alma's past and her relationships with her husband, lover, and family. The story takes us through tough life of internment camps for Japanese in Utah during the war to Alma's family life, her rise as a successful artist and businesswoman and her cosmopolitan and globe-trotting life after the war.

This is a story of the secret passion of a remarkable woman across a cultural divide. It is also the story of the friends and family who supported her in her efforts to make a memorable and rewarding life.

I commend this book to discerning readers who enjoy good literary fiction and fascinating characters. There are many books about intergenerational secrets - this is one of the better and more satisfying ones.

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