Thursday, April 6, 2017

Isabel Allende - The Japanese Lover

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.

Comment: Another interesting book I borrowed from my Portuguese friend. This is a contemporary book but includes many historical references, especially related to II World War and the racism and ignorance that existed between people from different countries after that.

This is the story of Alma Belasco. She is an old lady now but her life story is rich and filled with changes. She is a Jewish woman, born in Poland and she went to live with family in America before the war begun. In America, she got to live in a good house, and her cousin Nathanial became her best friend, along with Ichimei, the gardeners' youngest son. While these three became friends, Alma has always felt intrigued by Ichi and that relationship went on until they became old even despite the separation that kept them physically apart because of the war.
Now, her grandson Seth and Irina, one young woman working at the care facility where Alma decided to move into, have decided to investigate some letters Alma receives from someone they assume is Ichi...

This is not the first book I've read by the author. It's been years since I've read her and I wasn't always dazzled by the stories but I remember liking her style.
Several readers, whose reviews I peeked here and there after reading the book, have said the plot isn't fluid and feels like blocks of situations put together without a conducting line. In a way I have to agree, we have chapters of sorts, pieces of the narrative that focus on a situation that matters but this is not a linear plot where things happen in a following sequence.
I understand why this can bother the reader, I wasn't fond of it all the time but I also think it wasn't too bad, because we can still glimpse the emotions and personality of the characters, which ends up being the best thing.

This book focuses on several aspects that concern the character's lives and their approach to life. Each theme, if we can call it that, addresses a situation that relates to each character as well.
To give a couple of examples: Alma is the main character and she has suffered distance from her parents and family, she has fallen in love with someone from a different race and that matters because Japanese people were not seen well by all Americans after Pearl Harbour.
Seth, Alma's grandson is falling in love with Irina, a young woman from Moldova who has had a terrible past.
This is just one little part of the complex emotions the author has used to develop her story. I confess that, as it usually happens with dual time plots, I wanted to see more of the present, when Alma is an old woman and Irina is telling her story. Somehow, Irina's past feels like the most awful and I wanted her to feel happy and embrace Seth and his love. 

I think the author has done a good job with this book. I can see why some readers wouldn't enjoy it, both by plot and by style, but to me it worked out pretty well. It's not a long book, it doesn't exploit every issue to exhaustion but leaves food for thought enough to keep me interested.
The focal point of the story, Ichimei and Alma's relationship, which is seen as forbidden and even complicated one, didn't always have to be so. I guess I wouldn't feel this if Alma didn't keep saying they could have been together if not for a difficult choice that could have a bad outcome. If you regret it so much, why saying it like it wasn't meant to be if it was actually a choice they made? I can see why it would be a hard choice but...why complaining then?

All in all, this was a good book for me. I liked the end, it was super emotional and Irina and Seth's relationship was let in a point where I have hopes for their HEA. At least I spent some thinking about it... Still, a recommended book for those who like general fiction.
Grade: 8/10

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