I’m giving this epic story an OMG rating! You know what that means:) Yes, I absolutely loved it. Can’t stop thinking about it, or the characters who feel like old friends to me now.
THE JAPANESE LOVER is the best novel Isabel Allende has written since her much-acclaimed THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS so many years ago. And I think this one is even better.
Allende begins her story with Irina Bazili, who begins working at Lark House, an assisted-living home, in San Francisco in 2010. She is twenty-three years old but has been living on her own for many years. Her background has prepared her for almost anything. Lark House is where Alma Belasco who is now in her eighties and Irina Bazili meet and form a bond that will forever change them both.
Alma Belasco was sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle in San Francisco from Nazi occupied Poland in 1939 just as the Nazi’s were about to take over her country. Her parents suspecting what was to come, wished to keep Alma safe. But, the war took both her parents and she lived on in San Francisco with the Belasco family as their adopted daughter. Even though they had two natural daughters and one son named Nathaniel. Nathaniel who was several years older than Alma became her closest friend and ally from the moment he heard her crying softly in the armoire in the night. She was only six-years-old and missed her family, and her home in Warsaw. Nathaniel, with his tender soul and big heart, took Alma under his wing as none of the others were able to do. We discover much more of Nathaniel later in the story…
But the bigger story here is the undying love between Ichimei Fekuda and Alma. Ichimei is the youngest son of the Japanese gardner who cares for the flowers and trees at the Belasco mansion. Ichimei and Alma being of the same age became fast friends. Alma would wait anxiously each weekend for the gardener and his son to arrive. This friendship would eventually blossom into a love overshadowed by war, poverty, loss, death, separation and secrets.
Once Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor the Japanese -American people’s lives changed drastically. These humble and hard-working people became prisoners in what had become their own country. They were herded into buses and relocated to interment camps in the U.S.. They lost their homes, their businesses, their savings, and in many cases members of their families. I will say that I’ve read a little of these camps. But nothing prepared me for the ordeal these human beings were forced to endure in our United States of America. Subhuman.
Having said all of the above, I continue with the love between Alma and Ichi. During this time of estrangement while they were youngsters, they wrote back and forth for years. Instead of becoming strangled and diminished, their love grew into a brilliant fire that would give the Olympic flame a run for its money. However, marriage or any relationship between a Japanese and an American was now forbidden. So you see where this is going. How could Ichi and Alma ever be together in the way they so desperately desired?
I love a great love story. But, that is what it has to be: GREAT! This is it. THE JAPANESE LOVER is a quick read. But, slow down. Enjoy it. There is plenty between the lines. Allende infuses her story with secrets that I was not able to figure out. She tackles the ravages of old age in ways that are both uplifting and poignant, but realistic and harrowing at times. Throw in abandonment, abuse, loss, identity, grief, death, and above all LOVE. You are going to love this book.
In fact, there is more than one love story in THE JAPANESE LOVER. Seth, Alma’s grandson, falls for Irina, her caregiver. And that brings up another topic: secrets Irina is harboring from her past.
I was moved to tears more than once . That is always a sign of a great book:)And, I want to make it quite clear to those of you who are tired of WW11 novels: this one takes place totally in this country. And it is so worth the read.
I have the generous marketing people at Atria books a division of Simon & Schuster to thank for this amazing novel. A stunning new novel from Isabelle Allende. I absolutely LOVE it! And whoever did the cover did a bang-up job, too!