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The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

The Gift Of Rain (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Tan Twan Eng

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7235212,995 (4.11)1 / 251
Title:The Gift Of Rain
Authors:Tan Twan Eng
Info:Myrmidon (2007), Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical, WWII, Malaysia

Work details

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (2007)

  1. 20
    The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (Limelite)
    Limelite: Another young interracial Chinese boy's coming of age during WWII, only this one is set in Japan.
  2. 20
    An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (bibliobibuli)
    bibliobibuli: The Gift of Rain was greatly influenced by this book.

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Takes the readers from the final days of the Chinese emperors to the dying era of the British Empire, with a young man's perilous journey through the betrayals of war and into manhood. (summary from ISBN 1602860246)

This book is beautifully written. Eng's use of prose draws the reader into the story and allows us to experience life in 1939 Penang. I haven't read much about the Pacific Theater during WWII, so Eng's detailed narrative was very informative. ( )
  lrobe190 | Nov 19, 2016 |
Malay during the time of WWII...this book is beautifully written but hard to take at times. It's not just a story about war though - it's about friendship and love. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
Whether by destiny or choice the consequences are devastating ( )
  Cricket856 | Jan 25, 2016 |
“I was born with the gift of rain, an ancient soothsayer in an even more ancient temple once told me.

This was back in a time when I did not believe in fortune-tellers, when the world was not yet filled with wonder and mystery. I cannot recall her appearance now, the woman who read my face and touched the lines on my palms. She said what she was put into this world to say, to those for whom her prophecies were meant, and then, like every one of us, she left.

I know her words had truth in them, for it always seemed to be raining in my youth. There were days of cloudless skies and unforgiving heat, but the one impression that remains now is of rain, falling from a bank of low-floating clouds, smearing the landscape into a Chinese brush painting. Sometimes it rained so often I wondered why the clouds around me never faded, were never washed away, leaving the world in mouldy hues.”

And so we find ourselves in the rainy life of Philip Hutton in present-day (or so) Penang.

He meets Michiko Murakami, a Japanese woman in her seventies:

“I took the gloved hand she offered. With its scarce flesh and thin prominent bones it felt like a bird, a sparrow with its wings wrapped around itself.”

These two people have one person in common – Endo-san.

Philip tells Michiko his story of Endo-san.

This begins in 1939, when 16-year-old Philip meets the Japanese diplomat who rents a nearby island from the Huttons. Philip, as the half-English, half-Chinese youngest son feels like he doesn’t belong in either the British or the Chinese communities of Penang (then a British colony).

He is intrigued by this man whose “features were too sharp for a Chinese, and his accent was unknown”, and who begins to teach him aikijutsu, Japanese language and culture. Philip in return shows him around Penang. Their lives are bound together, their past, present and future.

Unfortunately, when Japan invades Malaya, Philip finally understands that his sensei has made use of his knowledge of Penang to aid the assault on the island. Believing that it is the only way to keep his family safe, Philip works with the Japanese, which makes everyone, even his own family, scorn him.

The Gift of Rain can be described as a war novel, historical fiction, but it is also a story about duty and discipline and love.

It is an ambitious first novel, with interesting supernatural connections and a background molded from fact and history. Some of the descriptions are perhaps a little too dramatic (it would however make for quite a spectacular movie). In the end though, The Gift of Rain was an engrossing, sad read about this young man who is torn between several worlds, who learns so much about himself and the life he has to lead. And more importantly, it is a book set in a part of a world familiar to me, but that unfortunately hasn’t been all that much written about.

It’s taken me quite a few years to actually get my hands on this book. I was first aware of The Gift of Rain in 2008 (it was shortlisted for the Booker in 2007, but I don’t think I gave it much thought then), when my family and I travelled to Penang for my cousin’s wedding (her husband’s family is from Penang – and boy did they know where all the good food was!). We decided to tour the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (there are some great photos on this blog), a gorgeous late 19th century two-storey courtyard house painted a startling blue. At the end of the rather interesting architectural and historical tour, one of the participants asked the guide if this were indeed the book mentioned in The Gift of Rain. I can’t quite remember what his reply was but it was in the positive, for Tan does mention the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in his book (unfortunately I had to return the book before I remembered to take note of when that is). It isn’t the coastal mansion that the Huttons live in, but is mentioned as La Maison Bleu.

Anyway, I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of weeks now, so the news that Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists was recently shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize was that kick that I needed. Apparently his latest book is set in Cameron Highlands, which my mum tells me we visited when I was really young, so I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it (I’m hold number 5 at my library).

This review was first posted on my blog Olduvai Reads ( )
  RealLifeReading | Jan 19, 2016 |
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng was written before the enchanting, five star Garden of Evening Mists, and it features the same type of hypnotic, poetic language that graced the latter. Protagonist Philip Hutton is the son of an English widower and Chinese mother who fell in love and defied local constraints. He has lived on the Malaysia island of Penang his entire life, including during its WWII Japanese occupation, and is now in his 70s. One night a woman around his age, Michiko, shows up at his home, wishing to discuss his life with his mentor and martial arts instructor Endo-san, a man she loved. Philip opens up to her, and we learn of his difficulties as a mixed-race child, and how Endo-san brought meaning and clarity to his life.

Philip's love for his English and Chinese families, and for the Japanese Endo-san, puts him at an unique central point of tension, and his facility with languages makes him of use to all three communities. How to navigate the WWII occupation and save his families? How to reconcile Endo-san's importance to him with the brutality of the occupiers? “Accept that there are things in this world we can never explain and life will be understandable. That is the irony of life. It is also the beauty of it.”

His martial arts studies with Endo-san are critical to his growth and he learns ways to move people in the direction he desires.

“As with all the principles of aikijutsu, you do not meet the force of the strike head-on. You parry, you step to the side to avoid the blow, your redirect the force and unbalance your opponent. It is the same with the ken, the sword. These principles apply to you daily life as well. Never meet a person’s anger directly. Deflect, distract him, even agree with him. Unbalance his mind, and you can lead him anywhere you want.”

His efforts are not always successful, however. “I had loaded another weight onto his suffering and it hurt me to understand that while one person can never really share the pain of another, they can so easily and so heedlessly add to it.” As you can tell, Philip is a sensitive man trying to reach a higher understanding, often in impossibly difficult circumstances. His fellow villagers variously view him as a hero and a villain, and he is not certain himself which he might be.

I would say that lots of gray areas are explored in the book, except that they come across as colorful, rather than gray. As in The Garden of Evening Mists, his descriptions of the sea and his surroundings are poetic and beautiful. Philip has the gift of rain, with all that entails.

"Like the rain, I had brought tragedy into many people's lives but, more often than not, rain also brings relief, clarity, and renewal. It washes away our pain and prepares us for another day, and even another life. Now that I am old I find that the rains follow me and give me comfort, like the spirits of all the people I have ever known and loved."

This was a solid four star read. ( )
3 vote jnwelch | Nov 9, 2015 |
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Book description
This remarkable debut saga of intrigue and akido flashes back to a darkly opulent WWII-era Malaya. Phillip Hutton, 72, lives in serene Penang comfort, occasionally training students as an akido master teacher of teachers. A visit from Michiko Murakami sends him spiraling back into his past, where he grows up the alienated half-British, half-Chinese son of a wealthy Penang trader in the years before WWII. When Hutton's father and three siblings leave him to run the family company one summer, he befriends a mysterious Japanese neighbor named Mr. Endo. Japan is on the opposing side of the coming war, but Endo paradoxically opts to train Hutton in the ways of aikido, in what both men come to see as the fulfillment of a prophecy that has haunted them for several lifetimes. When the Japanese army invades Malaya, chaos reigns, and Phillip makes a secret, very profitable deal. He cannot, however, offset the costs of his friendship with Endo. Eng's characters are as deep and troubled as the time in which the story takes place, and he draws on a rich palette to create a sprawling portrait of a lesser explored corner of the war. Hutton's first-person narration is measured, believable and enthralling.
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"The Gift of Rain is the story of Philip Hutton and the haunting tragedies that befall him when he becomes entangled in a web of wartime loyalties and deceits. In 1939, at the outset of World War II, sixteen- year-old Philip is a lonely outsider on the lush Malayan island of Penang. Alienated from his community and family, he at last discovers a sense of belonging through an unexpected friendship with another outsider -- a foreign diplomat whose true purpose on the island will ultimately bring unspeakable devastation. When Philip discovers he has been an unwitting traitor to his homeland and its people, he must work in secret to save as many lives as possible, even as his own family is torn apart. At once harrowing and luminous, Tan Twan Eng's celebrated debut novel is a thrilling epic and a true literary page-turner."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Myrmidon Books

An edition of this book was published by Myrmidon Books.

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Penguin Australia

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