Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

A book as lovely as the blossoms in its title, Gail Tsukiyama’s novel of 2 families in Japan during the mid-Twentieth century is a joy to read. After their parents are killed, Hiroshi and Kenji live with their grandparents, a wise and funny couple who provide much of the humor in the novel. The other family is that of Tanaka, a sumo trainer who has two daughters, Haru, a practical sort and Aki, younger and fragile. The relationships of these families, separately and together, beginning in 1939 and continuing for 30 years, creates an unforgettable story.
Kenji is a shy boy fascinated by the Noh masks in the window of a master artisan’s shop and longs to learn how to create such magic himself. Hiroshi dreams of becoming a sumo wrestler and captures the eye of Tanaka, the most prestigious trainer in Tokyo. WW2 interrupts all of their lives, as Japan suffers severe food shortages, warplane attacks and horrific firestorms. After the War, we follow the families as they try to repair their lives and deal with the Occupation and rebuilding. The novel isn’t political, but does show how global events affect ordinary people.
Customs and legends of Japan are woven seamlessly through the narrative, which was a perfect way to learn about the culture. One of the most surprising things was how interesting sumo wrestling is when it’s explained properly. Here in the U.S., sumo is ridiculed, but has a noble tradition in Japan. With the movements, rituals and history, it is like an aggressive ballet. The performances of Noh plays were a bit more familiar to me, but has the same richness of tradition.
There is a strong current of love running through this book, an enviable family life with firm bonds. I became quite involved with the characters, laughing and crying as their lives progressed and was truly sorry to see such a splendid novel end.

St. Martin’s Press 2007 422 pp. ISBN-13:978-0-312-27482-5

4 comments on “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

  1. Moira
    September 22, 2008

    It sounds very even-handed and non-preachy, Jackie … and an interesting choice of subject for a novel.

    Sumo is a strange thing, isn’t it? It’s balletic in its choreographed movements, but at the same time those super-heavyweight wrestlers are – frankly – gross, and I don’t imagine they make old bones.

  2. Sam
    September 22, 2008

    You clearly enjoyed the book, Jackie – and what a lovely title it has.

    Sam

  3. Jackie
    September 23, 2008

    It IS a poetic title, isn’t it? Which actually comes from the name of the street where Hiroshi and Kenji live with their grandparents. I thought it was a symbol of the family blossoming.

  4. kirstyjane
    September 23, 2008

    Jackie, this sounds lovely. I am learning Japanese and am still at the stage of learning to excuse myself for things – it will be a long time before I can read anything like this – so hurrah for St Martin’s Press and the other publishers who give us stunning books in translation.

    A Japanese perspective on WWII will be very interesting too. I feel that too often the European and US perspective dehumanises Japan, reducing it to a single obedient unit. A novel like this is doubly interesting because it shows the fate of individuals, people who had nothing to do with the Japanese government’s wartime decisions.

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This entry was posted on September 22, 2008 by in Entries by Jackie, Fiction: general, Fiction: historical and tagged , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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