January 18, 2016

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE JAPANESE LOVER BY ISABEL ALLENDE



Atria Books
This book also available in Spanish.



I would empty myself of everything but love. – Ichimei



Isabel Allende’s THE JAPANESE LOVER is an engaging and romantic tale spanning 70 years and multiple generations. The main themes in this novel are family, friendship, loyalty, identity and above all, love. 

Love makes the world go round and in this novel, love’s survival is at its heart. The forbidden love between Alma, a young Polish girl and her family’s Japanese gardener, Ichimei, lasts a lifetime in spite of their racial differences and the trials that separate them. Beautiful love letters and small token gifts keep them connected through his imprisonment in the Japanese concentration camps and afterward when they wed other people. 

Readers will laugh and cry as these lovers fall in love, only to lose their love.  Romeo and Juliet?  Maybe, but these lovers decide to live and to love even if it’s in secret and only in their hearts.  As Ichimei states, he will empty himself of everything but love, and by forgetting the prejudices and the despair, he will keep the memory of their love alive; just as Alma relives their love as she rereads his love letters and reopens his gifts.

It is at the end of her life that Alma meets Irina, the young caseworker at the senior center’s home. Their friendship helps to revive Alma’s spirits and allows her to share her story with Irina. Hoping to bring peace and a little romance back to her patient’s life, Irina partners with Seth, Alma’s caring grandson, to search for the missing Ichimei and bring the lovers together one last time.

It is curious to note that right now on Broadway, the musical Allegiance, staring George Takei and Lea Salonga is getting rave reviews.  It too deals with the imprisonment of Japanese Americas after the attack on Pearl Harbor. And it is heart-breaking to learn that George himself was a child internee at one of those prison camps.  For more information on Allegiance, the Musical, click here.


BOOK SUMMARY:  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.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Isabel Allende was born in Peru and raised in Chile.  Her books are bestsellers including THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS, DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE and MY INVENTED COUNTRY, whic have been translated into more than 35 languages and have sold over 65 million copies worldwide.  Visit her at www.isabelallende.com.