The Japanese Lover
Isabel Allende has long been a favourite of mine, so I was very excited to introduce her to Meera and Katy who'd never experienced her magical creations. Her most recent novel The Japanese Lover was gifted to me for Christmas and as we moved into spring here in London we immersed ourselves in her latest work.
The Japanese Lover differs from her previous work as it seems to break a little (or perhaps a lot) from the magical realism for which Allende is known and loved. The novel follows the story of a wealthy, elderly lady in a Californian care-home, Alma Belasco. The novel explores forbidden love and the consequences of choosing reason over love.
As a young girl, Alma is sent from Poland to live with her relatives in California, she soon falls in love with the Japanese gardener's son, (Ichimi) and from here the novel explores their separate and yet always entwined lives. The main premise of the story focuses on the idea that ignoring love or choosing practicality over love doesn’t make the love disappear. The love between Alma and Ichimi is presented as a force beyond their control and something they can never deny even though they both attempt to do so, by choosing to follow tradition and society's expectations rather than their hearts.
Although Liz and I both agreed it wasn’t our favourite Allende novel, we all enjoyed reading it. The story draws you in and is best enjoyed in one sitting (or perhaps two). We all agreed that one of the best-written and most evocative parts of the novel was the exploration of Ichimi’s imprisonment in an internment camp by the US government following Pearl Harbour. The writing was very evocative and we all felt truly transported to the particular time and place. The past and the present are expertly woven by Allende's skilled writing and the novel seamlessly moves between time and place.
The book also explores the rather tenuous love story between Alma’s nephew Seth and her care-worker Irina. In contrast to the extreme passion felt between Alma and Ichimi, their love-story seems lukewarm and somewhat unbelievable. The novel goes on to present issues of race, class, child abuse, pornography and HIV which led one City Lick member to comment that it seemed as if Allende was taking all the serious events of the past century and combining them into one storyline.
Given the nature of the novel we plumped for Japanese food, keeping it simple, we chose Flesh and Buns in Covent Garden to discuss the book. A great place for Japanese comfort food in the guise of fluffy white buns that you stuff chock-full of meat, fish or veggies. We really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere is particularly lively. The cocktails also went down very well, as did the Smores for dessert.
We all went home with full bellies and a promise to read more of Allende’s work.
Chosen and written by Becka.