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The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

The Samurai's Garden (1994)

by Gail Tsukiyama

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
When a story comes back to you after many years that means it left an impression. Gathering good books again and building a library of them to study this one resurfaced. The gentle weaving together of characters becomes a powerful meditation on the meaning of love, family and culture. Able to reach across time and space, this book touches strong emotions and provides the stepping-stones to help the reader imagine places we have never been and times we have never seen. Like a skilled gardener, Tsukiyama takes her time and leads one through an experience that does some of the great things literature is capable of. ( )
  a_forester | Sep 12, 2014 |
I finished The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama in tears. Stephen, a young Chinese, is at college when he contracts TB and his family sends him to their summer home in Japan to get well. He will be in the care of Matsu, an elderly caretaker whom Stephen always felt was very remote. Away from the hectic, frenzied world of China, Stephen finds himself in the quiet remote village. This book is not for anyone that demands action or conflict or high drama but it will be one of the treasures on my bookshelves. The writing is spare, clean and lovely. ( )
  mysterymax | Jun 11, 2014 |
I struggled with this one. The main character, Stephen, is sent to a small Japanese town to recover from tuberculosis in 1937. He’s a young Chinese man and during his stay he finds himself getting to know the past through the family’s servant, Matsu, and dreading the future approaching war.

Stephen doesn’t make an interesting character. His dialogue and actions fall flat, but it’s the supporting cast that eventually hooked me. Matsu is an older man now, but in his youth leprosy swept through their small town. He lost his sister to the disease and has watched a sweet friend, Sachi, suffer from it for years. Matsu and Sachi were lovely characters and the book is well worth reading for their plots.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite an incredibly slow start, the supporting cast makes the story an interesting read. ( )
  bookworm12 | Dec 6, 2013 |

The jury's still out on this one, but frankly, I know myself too well to believe that they'll ever return with a definitive answer in hand.

Relying simply on gut instinct, I enjoyed the book. I have never traveled outside the US, and the cosmopolitan feeling of having aspects of China, Japan, and vague traces of Western culture all wrapped into one story was appealing, to say the least. The appeal for me was strengthened by the majority of the story taking place in Japanese landscapes filled with calm and natural beauty, an aesthetic that the prose made an especial effort to convey. However, there were many things that increasingly bothered me as the pages progressed, and were never satisfactorily resolved enough for my taste.

My biggest issue was with the main character, who as the sole first person narrator was entrusted with setting and maintaining the tone through the entirety of the novel. This tone is a very comforting, but ultimately placid one, and it is hard to believe someone would be so overwhelmingly lighthearted and good-naturedly accepting considering all the events swirling around him. Tuberculosis, being in a foreign country that is currently attacking your homeland, leprosy, suicide, parental issues, and so many other major events that seemed to only register for brief moments within the narrator's mind as a side note to an entry. However, I fully admit to being introspective in reaction to external conflicts to the point of neurotic anxiety, so I may be judging the character too harshly in terms of how he chooses to deal with all the chaos around him.

It still seems odd, though, his ability to block out major concerns and focus on the smaller events of the much less chaotic everyday life. One event in particular makes me believe that the author used the epistolary form as a means to achieve exactly that, namely when the narrator receives a letter concerning the Nanjing Massacre. Just as he sits down to compose a letter to his family and friends back on the mainland, time skips forward more than two weeks, and there is little mention of what had to have resulted in huge amounts of mental conflict. Ultimately, all conflict both physical and mental is received secondhand by the narrator, and he maintains his well meaning nature all the way through without any repercussions or consequent soul-searching. Forgive me my cynicism, but golden boy characters such as these don't seem the most realistic of beings.

There was an also worrying amount of focus on physical beauty being a synonym for moral goodness, an example being the numerous occasions when the narrator evaluated and reacted to characters seemingly for how their faces look and/or might have looked in the past. I don't see his interest in being a painter, a good looking one at that as mentioned by many of the other characters, as a good enough excuse for this constant preoccupation and lack of further insight into those around him, especially when concerning the females.

There's also the Second Sino-Japanese War to consider, which began before the events of the book and ended long after, fully subsuming this tale of a young Chinese man and his father traveling back and forth between the two participating countries. I have very little hard knowledge of the events, so it is near impossible for me to gauge how feasible it would have been for this kind of story to have actually happened. While it is obvious that the author made an effort to include pertinent cultural details of both countries, as well as the influences the West had on both, there is very little commentary on the difficulties there must have been in traveling between the two during a time of war. I find it hard to believe that the narrator and his father had such an easy time of coping with being in a country currently responsible for the slaughter of so many of their people, or that the Japanese themselves accepted them with minimal signs of anger and distrust. Again, I don't know the facts, so this is all personal perception of the matter.

Lastly, I had an issue with the prose. Admittedly, I am biased against short sentences, but there were too many times when I was thrown off by the basic mechanics of word order and usage, and had to backtrack in order to figure out what the author was trying to say. Many of the better ones were beautiful, to be sure, but I feel that the novel could have used to a better editor. Also, the ending explanation of the epistolary form used throughout the novel was a weak one, and rather than tying up the conclusion left me with a deep feeling of disbelief.

Ultimately, it was a very relaxing and casual novel that fed my craving for lands I have never been to, but didn't do much when it came to my craving for good literature. ( )
  Korrick | Sep 12, 2013 |
A wonderfully written and poignant story. Stephen is sent from China to his grandfather's beach house in Japan. It is here that is life becomes entwined with Matsu and Sachi, a leper colony and a young first love with a Japanese girl. He learns about the Japanese invasion of China from radio broadcasts and letters from home. The characters are amazingly fleshed out, I felt like I really knew them by the end of the book. It ended the only way I believe it could have ended. This is a coming of age story, a love story and a story about the true meaning of beauty as well as a historical novel. This is an amazing novel, one which I highly recommend. ( )
1 vote Beamis12 | Sep 10, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Tsukiyama's writing is crystalline and delicate, notably in her evocation of time and place. This quiet tale of affection between people whose countries are at war speaks of a humanity that transcends geopolitics.
added by mysterymax | editPublisher's Weekly (Feb 27, 1995)
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No one spoke, the host, the guest, the white chrysanthemums.
In memory of Thomas Yam
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I wanted to find my own way, so this morning I persuaded my father to let me travel alone from his apartment in Kobe to my grandfather's beach house in Tarumi.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312144075, Paperback)

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu's generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu's soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:18 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In 1938, Stephen Chan, 20, who lives in Hong Kong, is sent to recover from tuberculosis in his familys summer house in Japan. While there he becomes privy to a romantic triangle between a beautiful woman leper and two men, a romance he records in his diary. A tale of Oriental love and friendship by the author of Women of the Silk.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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