Title: The Japanese Lover
Author: Isabel Allende
Date finished: 11/1/15
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Pages in book: 336
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: NetGalley NOTE: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.
Blurb from the cover:
In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.
Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.
Sweeping through time and spanning generations and continents, The Japanese Lover explores questions of identity, abandonment, redemption, and the unknowable impact of fate on our lives. Written with the same attention to historical detail and keen understanding of her characters that Isabel Allende has been known for since her landmark first novel The House of the Spirits, The Japanese Lover is a profoundly moving tribute to the constancy of the human heart in a world of unceasing change.
My rating: 3.25 stars out of a scale of 5
My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. This book tells the story of Alma Belasco and her family. Alma’s spent her first 8 years in Poland but her parents sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in San Francisco, CA to keep her safe from what was happening politically in Europe (Hitler). Thankfully they had the foresight to do this and Alma was spared the horrors of being sent to a Jewish concentration camp, but unfortunately they didn’t have the same urging to escape themselves. Alma was then raised by her aunt and uncle and her cousin Nathaniel, who was only a few years older than her. The book alternates between the past and Alma’s life growing up and then through adulthood with the present day where Alma is living in an assisted living community. It is there that Alma encounters and befriends Irina Bazili. Irina also becomes close friends with Alma’s grandson Seth, and together they begin to document Alma’s memoirs.
Seth and Irina become more and more interested in Alma’s life story, and they begin to notice signs pointing towards the fact that Alma is having an affair: gardenias arriving each week, a secret letter being delivered regularly, and that Alma will suddenly disappear for a couple days at a time having packed her nice silk lingerie. Both Irina and Seth become extremely curious as to who Alma is meeting with, and they start to delve into the part of Alma’s life she hasn’t yet fully divulged, that of her and Ichimei.
Overall I have to say this was not my favorite book. While the story line was interesting at times, I couldn’t get emotionally invested in the characters or in the story. It was hard for me to get a read on the story line, every time I thought I had it figured out like where the book was going, a new facet to the story line would pop up that leads the reader in a completely different direction. While it definitely kept me on my toes, it made it harder for me personally to get involved in the story. I did find the concurrent story of Alma’s parents’ fate at the concentration camp and Ichimei’s own experience in the US concentration camps to be interesting, the comparison between the two experiences was stark but the fact that there was still a valid connection makes you really think about the fear and drastic measures that were taken during that time period.
The bottom line: I would say if you want to read it then go for it. Not my favorite but it was a good book.