When I first moved to Spain, I kept seeing El Amante Japonés (The Japanese Lover) in every bus station I went to. And in those first few weeks I went to a lot of bus stations! It was on the bestsellers list. Due to my love of sushi and origami, I was particularly intrigued by the title.
A year went by, and eventually I bought a copy. Though not from a Spanish bus station. I opted for the translated English e-book edition. I raced through the book during breaks at work. I possibly wouldn’t have heard about Isabel Allende, if I hadn’t been living in Spain.
Without giving too much away… it is a story about migration, connection and being somehow the outsider or ‘foreign’ in the community in which you live. But it’s also about ageing and the decisions people make about their lives. Alma Belasco is the kind of older person I aspire to being like. She makes her own decisions, is fiercely independent, and doesn’t resign herself to behaving a particular way in order to match her supposed age. She lives in a residential home and the novel explores her younger years including her encounters with Ichimei, her childhood friend of Japanese descent. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again. There is a connection that remains bright, despite the social obstacles they faced during hostilities between the United States and Japan in the 1940s. Alma’s personal assistant in the residential home, Irina Bazili, is a European immigrant with a troubled family background. Together with Alma’s grandson, she gradually uncover the secrets that Alma kept so closely guarded over seven decades.
I read this the first time in English. I’m currently re-reading it in Spanish (though more at tortoise pace…).
I’m tagging this as United States because the bulk of the story takes places there, but also as Chile because the author, Isabel Allende, is Chilean.