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I had heard great things about The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, so I requested it from our library–in January, and I just got the book a week ago! There are 93 people below me waiting for the book. It must be a great read, right? Well, yes and no.
The Japanese Lover is set in 2015, but it goes back in time all the way to the start of World War II. The protagonist of the story, Alma Belasco, is a young Jewish girl living in Poland. While her parents have the foresight to send her brother to England and Alma to the U.S. to stay with one of her aunts and her family, the parents don’t leave Poland themselves. Anyone who has studied history knows their fate.
Meanwhile, young Alma befriends her cousin, Nathaniel Belasco, and the Japanese gardener’s son, Ichimei Fukuda. Alma is distraught when the Fukudas are sent to an interment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Alma last sees Ichimei when she’s 10; they don’t meet again for more than a decade.
When in the present, the story focuses on Alma, who is now living in Lark House in San Francisco. Lark House is a retirement home/nursing home. Residents often enter without any need for assistance, and then they gradually work their way up the levels of care as their needs increase. Alma is in the least restrictive area, but she takes a liking to one resident, Irina Bazili, and asks her to be her personal assistant, so to speak.
Irina, who has her own secrets to keep, soon discovers that Alma has a secret of her own–she has a lover that she meets at regular intervals but whom she won’t speak of.
Irina, with some prompting from Alma’s grandson, Seth, sets out to discover the truth of Alma’s secret relationship.
My Thoughts On This Book
I loved the historical aspect of this book. Embarrassingly, I didn’t learn of the Japanese internment camps until I was in college. This book gave more details of the conditions of the camps, even going so far as to call them concentration camps.
While the historical aspect lends depth to this book, Allende ambitiously tackles many social issues such as child pornography, incest, abortion, and AIDS, to just name a few. After awhile, it felt like too much, as if she was just trying to create ways to drop in these social issues.
However, the real problem I had with the book is that Alma as the protagonist is really not likable, at all. She’s selfish and self-centered, and about 2/3rds of the way through the book, I was both angry and annoyed with her. I kept thinking she would redeem herself, but in the end, that didn’t happen. I only saw her as a more selfish character by the end of the book.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.