The Japanese Lover

/ posted in: Reading The Japanese LoverThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
on November 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Translated from Spanish

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.


I always hear about Allende as a magical realism author but the two books I’ve read by her  (Ines of My Soul, The Japanese Lover) have both been historical fiction.

Alma has lead a life of privilege so it is surprising when she suddenly gives it all up and moves into an assisted living community.  She hires a popular employee, Irina, to work after hours for her as a personal assistant.  Both women have secrets that they are keeping from the world that gradually come to light as their lives become intertwined.

This book covers the interment of Japanese people following Pearl Harbor and how it affected the people who were forced into the camps.  Each member of the Fukada family responds in a different way.  Some are broken and some find strength that they didn’t know they had.

I found it interesting to see how Alma and Ichimei’s lives intersected at different points.  I don’t think that you get a strong read on either of them as people.  This isn’t a book that makes you really like any of the characters but the slowly unfolding mysteries are intriguing.

I could have done without Irina’s story.  It seemed very superficial to me.  It either needed to be gotten into more deeply or left out.