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The Japanese Lover

Reading a book by Allende is like looking at a multi-faceted jewel. Each facet takes you on a different path, with light and shade, joy and sadness. In this story, as it unravels, we look at many issues, cleverly woven into the tale. Issues of abandonment, everlasting love, racism, ageing, reflection and death are addressed. The author has her strong female characters and just a hint of magical realism in this story.

The story begins with a young girl, Irina, who applies for a job at an eccentric nursing home in San Francisco. She is not the main character, Alma is, but Irina becomes a trusted confidant and friend.

Alma has reached the age of reflection and wishes to find peace and solitude in her later years. As a child, her family sent her away from Poland to escape the Nazi threat. Her Aunt and Uncle were very wealthy and cared for her as one of their own. She grew up accepting her comfortable lifestyle and wealth.

At age 10, Alma was to meet a young Japanese boy, who was the son of the family’s gardener. Another facet of this story is the internment of Japanese people during World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Japanese citizens were rounded up and sent to desert camps in Utah. Here, the feeling that had been blossoming between Alma and Ichimei, her Japanese friend began to grow.

Encased within this story we also follow the lives of Seth, Alma’s grandson, and Nathaniel, her much loved husband and best friend. The story moves seamlessly between the past and the present, and leaves the reader with questions that gradually become answered as the story flows. Progressing through the saga, the reader develops a greater understanding of why the characters acted as they did and made the choices they did.

With a graceful economy of words, Isabel Allende manages to expand many thoughts and ideas. Her research has been thoroughly undertaken and gives the story authenticity. Today, that story would be so different; the choices the characters made would not be stunted by ostracism of a mixed marriage, and race.

Love in so many of its guises, is to be found, from the deepest lifelong love, to the love of friends and family. This is a rich and moving family saga, beautifully written.

AuthorIsabel Allende
PublisherSimon & Schuster