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Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner
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Barbara Jefferson is an American teaching in Japan, and her professor, Michi, who was like a mother to her, died and leaves her a tansu chest full of plum wine. Each bottle of wine was made in a different year and has a paper wrapped aorund it with the story of that year written on it in Japanese. It's an odd inheritance for Barbara, who doesn't speak or read Japanese. She wants to read the story and know more about Michi, as she realizes she didn't know that much about her personally, although she was close to her in many ways.

An acquaintance of Michi's and fellow hibakusha (survivor of the Hiroshima bombing), Seiji, a moody and talented pottery artist, helps Barbara translate the papers. Their relationship grows, and with it, brings confusion to Barbara's world.

I liked and disliked this book. The interweaving of the stories about "kitsune," Japanese folklore about foxes, the stories of the hibakusha, and descriptions of Japan give the story great atmosphere and transport you to Japan. So those are the good points of hte book. But, as the cover says in one of its critic review, "A heartrending story of love and loss . . . .masterful."

There were a few standout scenes in the book. Michi and Barbara's visit to the Buddha of Kamakura, and feeling they were in the womb of the Buddha was interesting and provided a great backdrop for conversations about mothers and relationships. I liked Barbara's speculation about her mother's feelings: "My mother always wanted a daughter like her, someone adventurous but conventional. A suit-and-pants kind of woman who takes flying lessons." ( )
  gildaclone | Dec 18, 2016 |
Plum Wine. Angela Davis-Gardner. 2006. Friend Lorie suggested this book, and I am so glad. It is a beautifully written love story! Barbara Jefferson is teaching English at a university in Tokyo. Michi, Barbara’s neighbor, mentor, and dear friend dies unexpectedly and leaves her a tansu chest filled with 20 bottles of wine dated by year. Each bottle is wrapped in rice paper that is covered with Japanese writing. Michi must have wanted Barbara to learn her history by reading this odd journal. At a memorial service for Michi, Barbara meets Seiji who had known Michi for years. He agrees to translate. They must meet secretly. It is not proper in 1960s Japan for the American teacher to meet with a man. As they fall in love, Barbara realizes there is more to Seiji’s relationship with Michi that he has told her. In addition to being a lovely love story, the books provides glimpse of life and culture in Japan in the aftermath of Hiroshima. ( )
  judithrs | Jun 15, 2015 |
This is one of my favorite books I have read for my book club. It is set in the 1960's at a women's university in Tokyo. The main character, Barbara is teaching English at this school. She has a wonderful, older friend named Michiko who leaves her a chest full of plum wine upon her death. On each bottle of wine is wrapped a writing of what has happened the previous year. Helping her to translate is Sejii who has some secrets of his own. The book moves back and forth in time. Many family stories are uncovered, especially about the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

This was an easy read, but at the same time I think it has many points for discussion. It certainly wasn't a light read. It had much turning pages quickly (or clicks as I read it on my kindle).

One of the best things about the books was the atmosphere and language. The author did an amazing job of making one feel like you were in Japan.

If you like you books tied neatly, with all questions answered you may be a little frustrated by this book.

I loved this book and I think many people would like it too. I had never heard of this author before but I'd like to read more books by her. ( )
  erica471 | Jan 5, 2014 |
i thought it was kind of dry and boring but my book club really liked it ( )
  dawnlovesbooks | May 15, 2013 |
This novel, set in Japan in the 60s, is definitely on the minimalist side. It’s the story of Barbara, a woman from North Carolina, who goes to Japan to teach for a few years. The constant slight confusion of the protagonist is very familiar to me, since I’ve also experienced a lot of culture shock in my life.

The story that’s grafted onto this doesn’t feel entirely natural, but it is heartfelt. Barbara is befriended by Michi, a Japanese teacher who is like a mother to her, and when Michi dies, Barbara inherits her chest of stories. Looking for a translator for the writing, Barbara falls in love with Seiji, a Japanese man, a potter. Both Michi and Seiji lived in Hiroshima when the bomb fell, both lost their families, and both remained wounded.

From her exploration of Michi’s life, and from her growing and then fading intimacy with Seiji, Barbara learns what it means to be a survivor of Hiroshima. The US Vietnam War is also part of the story, as Barbara must explain it to her students.

The novel is written very plainly, one might even say in a Japanese style. Everything is suggested rather than spoken. But at times it feels too sparse, and the prose seems utilitarian rather than poetic.
( )
  astrologerjenny | Apr 24, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385340834, Paperback)

Bottles of homemade plum wine link two worlds, two eras, and two lives through the eyes of Barbara Jefferson, a young American teaching at a Tokyo university. When her surrogate mother, Michi, dies, Barbara inherits an extraordinary gift: a tansu chest filled with bottles of homemade plum wine wrapped in sheets of rice paper covered in elegant calligraphy—one bottle for each of the last twenty years of Michi’s life.

Why did Michi leave her memoirs to Barbara, who cannot read Japanese? Seeking a translator, Barbara turns to an enigmatic pottery artist named Seiji, who will offer her a companionship as tender as it is forbidden. But as the two lovers unravel the mysteries of Michi’s life, a story that draws them through the aftermath of World War II and the hidden world of the hibakusha, Hiroshima survivors, Barbara begins to suspect that Seiji may be hiding the truth about Michi’s past—and a heartbreaking secret of his own.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Barbara Jefferson, a young American teaching in Tokyo in the 1960s, is set on a life-changing quest when her Japanese surrogate mother, Michi, dies, leaving her a tansu of homemade plum wines wrapped in rice paper. Within the papers Barbara discovers writings in Japanese calligraphy that comprise a startling personal narrative. With the help of her translator, Seiji Okada, Barbara begins to unravel the mysteries of Michi's life, a story that begins in the early twentieth century and continues through World War II and its aftermath." "As Barbara and Seiji translate the plum wine papers they form an intimate bond, with Michi a ghostly third in what becomes an increasingly uneasy triangle. Barbara is deeply affected by the revelation that Michi and Seiji are hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, and even harder for her to understand are the devastating psychological effects wrought by war. Plum Wine examines human relationships, cultural differences, and the irreparable consequences of war in a story that is both original and timeless."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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