Friday, January 27, 2017

714 (2017 #12). The Japanese Lover

by Isabel Allende,
read by Joanna Gleason

I've read a lot by Isabel Allende, and while this does not measure up to her earlier works, I still liked The Japanese Lover.  A major criticism from some fans is that Allende tells the story, rather than showing the story through action.  Yet, given that the book covers 74 years, from 1939 to 2013, and jumps back and forth from the 2010-2013 period to earlier years, that may be understandable.  Besides, the idea of the book is that one main character is telling her life story to others.

The two main characters in the book are  Alma Mendel Belasco, who is 78 when the book begins in 2010, and Irina Bazili, who is 23.  Irina, a Moldovan refugee, has just started to work at (the mythical) Lark House, a retirement community in San Francisco with a continuum of care levels, and Alma has just moved into independent living there.  Alma hires Irina to be her secretary, and both of them get involved in a book that Seth, Alma's grandson, is writing - and Alma begins to share her memories.  Eventually she gets around to her Japanese lover - Ichimei "Ichi" Fukuda, the son of the Belasco family gardener.  Alma's and Ichi's families also become part of the story.

Through her characters, Allende weaves in all sorts of history - Japanese-American internment camps, war, the Holocaust, and the attempts of Jewish people (like Alma's Mendel parents and brother) to avoid it (Alma was sent from Poland to live with her Belasco relatives, including her cousin Nathaniel, who becomes her best friend and husband).  She also brings up topics like racial prejudice, aging issues, death with dignity, and a few others that were surprises to me as the story went on.

I actually liked this book. Besides the historical fiction in it, I'm mesmerized by the idea of a love that lasts over 70 years. Actress Joanna Gleason's reading is perfect; she has a beautiful soft voice that seems to fit all the characters.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university and local public libraries respectively.]

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