The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

the japanese lover 9781501116971 lgIn The Japanese Lover, Chilean author Allende analyzes the themes of love, loss, prejudice, and age. The novel’s main protagonist, Alma Mendel, arrives in San Francisco in 1939 at the age of eight. Her parents have sent her from their home in Poland to live with her wealthy Uncle Belasco and his family. Alma befriends her cousin Nate Belasco and the gardener’s son, Ichimei Fukado. These two will play pivotal roles in Alma’s life for many decades.

Alma is an amazing character—kind yet toughened from her early experiences with loss. She is also self-centered and somewhat haughty. By the time she reaches her mid eighties, she resides at an assisted living facility where she has befriended one of its employees—Irena. Both women have secret pasts, the memories of which continue into their present lives.

Allende’s first novel, House of the Spirits, published in 1982 to critical acclaim, won her international fame and has been translated into 37 languages. It ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Here, Allende fictionalizes the turbulent history of post-colonial Chile after the overthrow of her uncle, Salvatore Allende, in 1973. Like House of the Spirits, many of Allende’s books are family sagas and offer sociopolitical commentaries of the times in which they are set.

Allende has written nearly 20 works and has garnered many awards. In 2004, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2010 she received Chile's National Literature Prize. President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Isabel Allende is a skilled artist, one who is both sensitive and adept at historical detail. Her depiction of the horrors of the Holocaust and the shattering of lives during the Japanese American internment are vivid and accurate. The author illustrates the lasting impact these two unspeakable chapters in history had on good and innocent people. She also relates how society as a whole treated prejudice toward people outside of the mainstream (Japanese, Jews, homosexuals). Ultimately, The Japanese Lover is a moving love story with characters that stay with the reader long after the final page.

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