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Samuaris Garden

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Review: "The Samurai's Garden" by Gail Tsukiyama

The setting is poignant. It is 1937, and Japan's Imperial Army is raging across China, pushing ever farther south, leaving destruction in its wake. In Hong Kong, a Chinese university student from a well-to-do family falls ill with tuberculosis. His father, a successful businessman who divides his time between China and Japan, arranges for him to recuperate in a quiet village in rural Japan where the family has a vacation home. The cooler, drier climate and the calm of the seaside hamlet are expected to benefit his health.

But Stephen is a fish out of water at first. Although he remembers the vacation home and its caretaker Matsu, his family's servant, he feels lost when he arrives there to convalesce. The village of Tarumi is nothing like bustling Hong Kong, and he feels uncomfortable among the inhabitants-- not only is his a Chinese face among the Japanese, but also he is the only young man, as the others are off fighting against his homeland.

"The Samurai's Garden" by Gail Tsukiyama (born to a Chinese mother and Japanese father) is the tale of Stephen's year in Tarumi. It is a time of escalating war in the outer world, as well as personal transformation for the characters of the book. I rate it a solid "+."

Typically Japanese in flavor, the book says more indirectly than directly. Stephen is the main character, but you will feel more deeply acquainted with the people he meets and interacts with in Tarumi and nearby Yamaguchi. And even within Stephen's personal story, you will feel closer to him in the later parts of the book, when he adapts to the Japanese lifestyle and speaks less. (At first, he is a regular chatterbox, but gradually grows to be more subtle, quiet, and perceptive, and indeed more interesting).

Through Stephen's learning



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