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The Gift of Rain (2007)

by Tan Twan Eng

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9627016,197 (4.14)1 / 301
Penang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip's family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei - to whom he owes absolute loyalty - has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is. With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas - of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests - Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.… (more)
  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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» See also 301 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Philip Hutton relates his life to Michiko Murakami, an old flame of his sensei, Hayato Endo. Having recently received a letter from Endo-san sent 50 years previously she travels to Penang to find out more of Endo-san’s story after he left Japan.

Endo-san's teachings help Philip come to terms with his mixed parentage and enabled him to feel connected to his family. His teachings prepare Phillip for what is to come, the love and betrayal and the sense that they have known each other in many lifetimes.

There is a feeling of peace, tranquility, stillness and love at the beginning which makes the sudden occupation by the Japanese, seem particularly brutal when it comes. Violent, gruesome and savage, Philip has a foot in both camps, aiding the Japanese in order to safeguard his family, but also providing information to the resistance organisation.

An emotional read that takes you to extremes, from love to brutality and a lot of suffering. All beautifully handled by Tan Twang Eng whose writing is quiet and taut, understated but powerful.

This proved as thought provoking on the second read as it did on the first. It is a book that haunts and stays with you. ( )
  Matacabras | Mar 14, 2021 |
This is a well told, heartrending story with two major and unforgivable flaws. It presents an almost Malay free Malaysia, concentrating almost entirely on Chinese, British and Japanese interactions, and uses reincarnation as a tinny excuse for actions which seem substantially organic to the situations, so rather than adding depth and resonance the spiritual element debases the whole. This is a story of empire and love and how both rend and demolish the people they affect. The two central characters have a homosexual relationship presented with such delicacy that it is difficult to see giving this book a rainbow ( )
  quondame | Aug 5, 2020 |
Historical fiction about the Pacific theater during World War II. Fifteen-year-old Patrick Hutton is the youngest child of a long-established British family with major industrial holdings in Malaya. His mother, however, was his father’s second wife, and Chinese; and he is shunned by both the Chinese community (for his British background and lifestyle), and by British society (for his Asian heritage). Lonely and adrift, he finds a friend in the Japanese diplomat who rents one of his family’s properties. Endo teaches Patrick the skills of akaido, and Patrick happily shares his love of his island home with this visitor. What he doesn’t realize until it is too late is that Endo is actually a Japanese spy, and that Patrick has unwittingly become complicit in helping the Japanese take over Penang and Malaya.

This is a marvelous book on so many levels. First, the way in which these characters are drawn. They are complex and nuanced, and Eng manages to have the reader empathize with all sides of the story. Secondly, I applaud Eng for choosing a WW2 story that has had little exploration in fiction. I’ve read only two other books that touched on what happened in Malaya – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Flanagan, and Shute’s A Town Like Alice - and both mostly mentioned the camps. This book really explained how the Japanese were able to take over the peninsula with little or no resistance from the British.

Then there is the atmospheric nature of the book. I’ve been to Penang, and to Kuala Lumpur (the latter twice), but even if I had not experienced these locations Eng’s descriptions would easily have transported me there. I could feel the humidity, smell the cooking, relish in the feel of a sea breeze, hear the soft patter of a shower, the steady drumming of a monsoon, or the cacophony of a marketplace. And Eng’s prose is at times poetic, making me want to slow down and relish his use of language. And there were scenes where I was on the edge of my seat.

This is Eng’s debut novel. I definitely will read more by him. ( )
  BookConcierge | Apr 6, 2020 |
This book fulfills the "book written by a Southeast Asian author" category of Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2-2016. Yeah, it's taking me awhile to get through the challenge.

This is the beautifully written story of a young man and his relationship with his martial arts teacher, his sensei. It takes place in Malaysia from 1939 to 1995. The narrator relates the story of his youth during the Second World War and how he and his teacher were involved, to a woman who was the teacher's lover, when she comes to visit the narrator near the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

It's really impossible to capture the breadth, scope, and intricacies of the story in a simple review. If you get a chance to read this book, you should. I'm glad I did. It's a detailed epic, covering 50 years in narrator's life, as well as the history of Southeast Asia and Japan during that time.

You will be guaranteed to have "all the feels." Part One moved more slowly for me than Part Two. I whipped through Part Two in a day. I could not put it down. The story is mostly focused on male characters, as some reviewers have noted. There were strong female characters, though.

One demand this book makes of the reader is a good memory for details. Either that, or read it with no pauses between, or limited breaks in your reading. Don't take too much time away from it. I did and found that I forgot details that turned out later to be relevant to the story when the author referred back to that detail. This most often occurred in terms of conversations between the characters that happened over a period of years. So, either be prepared to go hunting for references and narrative connections in the text, or pay attention to all the details.

I would definitely read more from this author. This was his first novel, and it's amazing. ( )
  harrietbrown | May 22, 2019 |

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng is a story set in Malaya in World War Two told through the eyes of Philip Hutton, a young man who feels like an outsider in his own family.

There are many aspects of this wonderful book that I really enjoyed:


The main protagonist Philip doesn’t feel that he belongs in either culture, being half Chinese with a Chinese mother, Khoo Ui Lian, and a British father. His Grandather Khoo is estranged from the family too. In time his grandfather takes Philip to the Leong San Thong Dragon Mountain Hall temple built by the clan association of the Khoo. His grandfather accuses Philip of “the great human capacity for choosing not to see.” He predicts that his choices will never be the completely correct ones,” and “That is your tragedy.” But growing up of mixed parentage, “that is your strength.” I related to this in some ways, as I am also of mixed parentage, my father is Scottish and my mother is a Eurasian from Malaysia.

Philip is not close to his siblings Edward, William and Isabel therefore it is not altogether surprising that he is attracted to a Japanese man, Endosan, an outsider, who appears to be so powerful that he says: “Now you will always remember me as the man who taught you to touch heaven.”

The references to martial arts added another aspect to the story that I really enjoyed – Under the influence of Endosan’s (Mr Hayato Endo) tutelage in Aikijitsu, Philip becomes very close to him, so much so that he trusts him with details that maybe he should not. He must make one of two horrendously difficult choices either to work with or against the Japanese during the occupation of Malaya.

It is a novel that encourages the reader to engage with the author thinking about life-changing choices and consequences. Philip takes a different path from his friend Kon, even though they started off on a similar route both learning Japanese martial arts. Ultimately, the choices that the two young men make lead them in conflicting directions. Even though Philip isn’t close to his family he does want to protect them and his father’s business from harm. But, his good intentions do not have the desired effect, in fact his ploy seems to work against him in many ways, destroying lives, and making the divide between himself and his father and sister much greater.t Later he tries to make amends, fearful for his life and his family’s life after witnessing the terrible atrocities carried out in the Kempeitai cleansing campaign.

The Gift of Rain acts as a confessional taking the reader into the heart of the main protagonist. It is told through the perspective of an aging Philip confessing his life story to an elderly sick Japanese woman who has appeared at his doorstep unannounced. Both Michiko and Philip share a love for Mr Hayato Endo, and therefore Philip feels comfortable sharing this story with her, as he believes she if anyone will understand why he chose the path that he did. There is a sense in the story of everything in life being connected, a continuum of many lives in which Philip will meet Endosan again and again.

Tan Twan Eng weaves a tale of dreadful cruelty entwined with cultural niceties. That breathes life into the story, one only has to experience Goro’s cruelty with the piano playing episode in the book to see this strange partnership in action.

Tan Twan Eng uses highly effective themes of delicate butterflies and fireflies, and a family portrait taken before Philip’s brother goes off to fight to suggest the fragility, and wonder of life. At a particularly sad, and heart-wrenching point in The Gift of Rain, we are told that: “I never saw any butterflies.”

It questions what we consider to be fair and just in a war. It is a world in which the family chauffeur will eventually feel justified in betraying a member of the family, as he considers that: “This is justice.”

There is a sense that those pre-war days were magical. Life cannot ever be the same again: “But those were magical days just before the threads that bound the world became unravelled.”

I love the fortune teller aspect of the novel, and the concept of the gift of rain. The fortune teller in the Temple of Azure Cloud told Philip: “You were born with the gift of rain. Your life will be abundant with wealth and success. But life will test you greatly. remember – rain also brings the flood.” She also says: of Endo-san: ‘He’s a Jipunakui – a Japanese ghost. I do not read their futures. Beware of him.”

I love that it is set in Malaysia. Particularly at this time in history as I have heard stories from my mother passed down from her family about Malaya during the Japanese occupation. Tan Twang Eng depicts the setting so wonderfully that you just feel as if you are there and it does make you wonder what would you would have been prepared to do to keep your family safe if you were in Malaya at that time.

So a thoughtful novel which I really enjoyed from start to finish. I would highly recommend it to readers who enjoy Historical fiction, Cultural, War, and Asian literature.

Full review at https://kyrosmagica.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/my-kyrosmagica-review-of-the-gift-o...




( )
  marjorie.mallon | Mar 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
"I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches his home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory." --The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby
Dedication
For my parents,
En vir Regter AJ Buys wat my geleer het hoe om te lewe.
First words
I was born with the gift of rain, an ancient soothsayer in an even more ancient temple once told me.
Quotations
“That is what growing old consists of, mostly. One starts giving away items and belongings until only the memories are left. In the end, what else do we really require?”
“Duty is a concept created by emperors and generals to deceive us into performing their will. Be wary when duty speaks, for it often masks the voice of others. Others who do not have your interests at heart.”
“You were born with the gift of rain. Your life will be abundant with wealth and success. But life will test you greatly. Remember—the rain also brings the flood.”
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Penang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip's family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei - to whom he owes absolute loyalty - has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is. With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas - of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests - Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

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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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Myrmidon Books

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