The Japanese Lover deserves to win a prize for being the best book with the worst title in many a year. The Japanese Lover is a lovely, magical novel, a literary romance, and an ode to aging gracefully which makes it all the more disturbing that it’s saddled with such an unrepresentative moniker.
This eloquent novel illustrates as one line in it states, “How exuberant and boisterous the universe is. . . It turns and turns, and the only constant is everything changes.” Isabel Allende’s words illuminate the universe through the lives of three very different characters.
Elderly Alma Belasco is a wealthy artist who’s chosen to move to Lark House, a progressive home for the aged. Lark House is what old people’s homes should be – a colorful, caring place where residents are valued. As a young child, Alma was sent to live with relatives in San Francisco at the beginning of World War II while her parents stayed in Europe and died in the concentration camps. Alma, a lonely child, formed a friendship with the Japanese gardener’s son, Ichi Fukuda, which later bloomed into a forbidden romance.
Alma hires Irina Bazili, an immigrant working at the home, as her assistant and secretary and Irina’s painful past is slowly revealed. Irina avoids intimacy especially as Alma’s grandson, Seth, begins to court her and both of them try to discover Alma’s secret life. This is particularly evident as a way for Irina to escape her own past.
Irina found relief from her own uncertainties. She wanted to be like Alma and live in a manageable reality, where problems had definite causes and solutions, where there were no dreadful creatures lurking in her dreams, no lecherous enemies spying from every street corner. Hours with her were precious and Irina would willingly have worked for free.
A cache of Ichi’s letters to Alma reveal that the two have been meeting secretly for years and that their relationship offers both romance and mutual support.
October 22, 2001
Yesterday, Alma, when at last we could meet to celebrate our birthdays, I could see you were in a bad mood. You said that all of a sudden, without us realizing it, we have turned seventy. You are afraid our bodies will fail us, and of what you call the ugliness of age, even though you are more beautiful now than you were at twenty-three. We’re not old because we’re seventy. We start to grow old as soon as we are born, we change every day, life is a continuous state of flux. We evolve. The only difference is that now we are a little closer to death. What’s so bad about that? Love and friendship do not age.
Summing it Up: Allende hits all the high notes in this accessible novel of separation, loss, anxiety, and love that conquers all. The ending is absolutely spot-on perfect.
Rating: 4 stars
Category: Fiction, Gourmet, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: November 3, 2015
Author Website: http://isabelallende.com/
Read an Excerpt: http://isabelallende.com/en/book/japanese/excerpt
Reading Group Guide: http://books.simonandschuster.com/The-Japanese-Lover/Isabel-Allende/9781501116971/reading_group_guide
What Others are Saying:
The New Zealand Herald: http://m.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=11539093
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-5011-1697-1