What’s it all about?:
In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?
What did WE think?:
CHRISSI: Amaterasu spends most of the novel feeling that she is to blame for things that have happened. How has this affected her life and does the novel provide a resolution?
BETH: Poor Amaterasu! I found her such a fascinating character and alternated between feeling really cross with her and then really sorry for her after her actions lead to her living such a sad, lonely life when her husband dies. Her potential grandson turns up on her doorstep one day after he had been searching for her for quite a while and you begin to see the start of a relationship between the two as Amaterasu thinks back to the events that caused her to lose her daughter and believe her grandson was dead. She escapes to America with her husband as she doesn’t feel that she can stay in Nagasaki because of all the bad memories associated with it. Even though she promises her husband on his death bed that she will try and integrate herself with the community, she becomes a virtual recluse, even developing a bit of an alcohol problem and it is only with the appearance of a man that claims to be a grandson that she can put old ghosts to rest.
BETH: Could you understand why Amaterasu made the decisions she did?
CHRISSI: Somewhat, I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for others! Amaterasu has to look back at her life and begin to come to terms with what happened in the time period before, during and after the bombing. It takes Amaterasu some courage to look back at her past and look for forgiveness for her actions so she can live the rest of her life in peace. It is a particularly painful look back for Amaterasu as she feels pain and immense guilt after her actions.
CHRISSI: What did you feel that you learnt about Japanese culture and the differences between East and West?
BETH: I felt I learned so much! This book is really special for the little paragraphs above each chapter that describe a Japanese word or phrase and what it means for the Japanese people. Even though the author is British, the novel is inspired by her years living in Nagasaki in the 90’s and it’s obvious she’s done her research and really integrated herself into the Japanese mindset. The East and West cultures can be quite different but it’s always fascinating to learn about a different culture and way of life.
BETH: Did your opinion of Sato change at any point in this novel and why?
CHRISSI: Not really. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like Sato as a character at all. I get the feeling that I was supposed to find some sympathy for him, but I just found him infuriating. I guess he did try and find redemption within his letters and his adopting an orphan, but for me, my opinion didn’t change. I didn’t find him likeable at all.
CHRISSI: You love Japanese fiction. Did this book live up to your expectations?
BETH: I certainly do and it certainly did. It reminded me of Memoirs Of A Geisha and was beautifully written with a fascinating plot and intriguing characters, especially our main character Amaterasu. I also felt like I learned a lot about the horrors of the Nagasaki bombing and the effect it had on so many people’s lives and it’s encouraged me to read a bit more into it.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: I think it would depend on what the subject matter was. I do think the writer has a beautiful writing style, but I wouldn’t race to read another.
Would we recommend it?:
BETH: Of course!
BETH’s star rating (out of 5):
CHRISSI’S star rating (out of 5):