Monday, December 14, 2009

Review : The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

genre: historical fiction

There are books that are so rich, so full of the essence of a place and its people, that they do not lend themselves to being merely "summarized" or "described." Books that do not follow merely one or two characters and their experiences, but truly try to examine a cross-section of humanity and how their lives intertwine. For me, this was such a book. And while the Japanese brothers Hiroshi and Kenji are at the crux of this amazing novel, we also come to know and love the people that surround them.

Hioschi and Kenji are orphaned very young and are raised just outside of Tokyo by their beloved grandparents. Their ojichan and obachan are such...exquisite people. Their values and patience, their love and strength seemed to epitomize all that is good in Japanese culture. And as these boys and their countrymen go through the hell that was World War II, we see a completely different side of that war's story than we usually read: the plight of the common Japanese citizen. The scars of the firestorms at the end of the war have far-reaching consequences and no characters escape being affected in one way or another.

What I think I really liked most about this book is that it completely immersed me in Japanese culture. The ancient theater customs, city life vs rural life, the traditional sport of sumo wrestling (which honestly, I never would've thought I'd be interested in), I found myself putting the book down sometimes to do more research. And all the Japanese language sprinkled throughout was easily understood in context and made the story an even richer experience. I think the only thing about this book that didn't thrill me is that it wasn't exactly a "happy" book. While good things happen to some of the characters, it's also a raw and realistic picture of life at the time, as well as of human nature and its most basic weaknesses. And while it jumped around from character to character a lot, I followed it with no problem, like finishing a conversation with one friend and then taking a call from another. A great piece of literature.


Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

I haven't read this, but I loved The Samurai's Garden.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds wonderful! I think my son would enjoy it too. He went to Japan the summer after his junior year of high school and he loved the culture and the people.

Betsey said...

Needless to say I am thrilled you enjoyed a book I recommended. Now you have glimpsed a window into the experience I had in Japan :D.

You might also enjoy The Samurai's Garden. It is a much simpler story line, yet very elegant.

Anna said...

I've added this one to my to-read-someday list. It sounds really good.

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

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