The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng

Published March 5, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

“The Gift of Rain spans decades as it takes readers from the final days of the Chinese emperors to the dying era of the British Empire, and through the mystical temples, bustling cities,and forbidding rain forests of Malaya.” In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton – the half-Chinese, half-English youngest child of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families – feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat who rents a nearby island from his father. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. As World War II rages in Europe, the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, and Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and he is forced into collaborating with the Japanese to safeguard his family. He becomes the ultimate outsider, trusted by none and hated by many. Tormented by his part in the events, Philip risks everything by working in secret to save as many people as he can from the brutality he has helped bring upon them.

What did I think?:

The Gift of Rain is the debut novel from Malaysian born author Tan Twan Eng, published in 2007 and also long-listed for the Man Booker Prize that year. I enjoy reading the Booker novels that have been both long and short-listed so I knew I was in for a treat when I read the synopsis of this novel. It is set in Penang, during the years of the Japanese occupation during World War II and our main character is Philip Hutton who is of mixed Chinese-English heritage and often battles with his loyalities on both sides, while feeling a sense of not belonging to either faction. The story is told across two time frames, the first is the present day when Philip is an older man and on receiving a mysterious female visitor finds himself travelling back to his past. The second time frame are the years leading up to World War II when Philip is a teenage boy, where he finds some meaning to his life by meeting an older Japanese gentleman – Hayato Endo who teaches him the discipline of aikido. When the Japanese invade Malaya however Philip must make a decision about where exactly his loyalties lie, which has the potential to threaten his friendships and endanger his family.

As mentioned previously, I was looking forward to digging into this novel, and for the most part it lived up to my high expectations, but somehow I completed it feeling rather flat and I am trying to figure out why. I loved reading about the early life of our main character, and think that the author has a genuine talent with his descriptive writing and setting the scene but as the story progressed I began to feel slightly deflated, although for the quality of the writing I would give it a higher than average rating. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting and I’m well aware this review is starting to make no sense, but I can’t really describe it except that there was no real “wow” moment for me. I do think that this is a promising author however, and I already plan to read his second novel The Garden of Evening Mists which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize more recently in 2012.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

2 comments on “The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng

  • I found much the same when I read The Garden of Evening Mists. I thought the writing was beautiful but sometimes it was so stylised, especially the dialogue, that it just didn’t read quite true, and as a result I didn’t find it nearly as moving as I felt the story deserved. However I gave it four stars and would definitely recommend it as worth reading – and will still be watching how this author develops in future.

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