Friday, August 28, 2015

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

When I started The Street of a Thousand Blossoms I thought I was going to have some issues with it. The characters seemed stiff and distant. My reaction might have had more to do with Japanese culture than with Gail Tsukiyama's writing, but either way it took me awhile to get to know and care for the people in her story. But I couldn't stop listening (I had the audio version of the book read by Stephen Park). The novel is filled with careful descriptions of aspects of Japanese culture, creating a picture of life in Japan during and after World War II that is fascinating.

Then, as I read further, the characters began to come alive. I read another review that criticized the novel for going on too long after the war, but I found the personal tragedies that occurred at the end to be the best part. The characters had interesting reactions to the events they experienced, which made me care for them.

The story is about two brothers whose parents are killed in a ferry accident, so they are raised by their grandparents. One of the brothers, Hiroshi, is a talented sumo wrestler. The other, Kenji, is drawn to make Noh theater masks. Because the brothers are both interested in careers that are important to Japanese culture, Tsukiyama can spend a great deal of time describing those pastimes. Sumo wrestling gets a little more space than Noh theater, which disappointed me a bit. But all the descriptions were interesting to me.

I had some trouble with the names. I don't speak Japanese, so the sounds didn't stick with me as well as English names would. Combine that with the fact that the author used nicknames, surnames, and titles as well as the common names for some of the characters and I was confused. But after I listened to the narrative for awhile, the story always straightened itself out.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who would like to learn more about Japanese culture, especially around World War II.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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