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.
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