The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover

by Isabel Allende

Overview: 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.

Jodi Roberts (10/30/16): I've read only one other by this author and I have to admit, I was disappointed in this book. It's good and entertaining, with beautiful prose, but it was missing something. I couldn't attach to the characters, especially the protagonist, as I would have liked. There were too many historical elements: from WWII, to Japanese Internment in the US, and others as I don't want to give any of the story away. Perhaps a greater focus on the characters and their relationships with each other within the context of one or two significant events. I believe the ambitious nature of this novel was a let down; I guess I was expecting more. That said, I still think it worth reading, but I believe this author has far better in her catalogue.
Rating: ***

Faith Bowers (10/12/16): This wonderful novel is our November book club selection. Containing both love, art and horrific events aimed at unprotected humans, it is an unforgettable read. It is least about the Japanese lover and most about whom he loves, Alma. We read about all facets of her personality as well as going through the full circle of her life. All the other developed characters orbit Alma for us to root for the successes in each one. I want to continue to read the remaining of Allende's novels.
Rating: ****

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