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“The Japanese Lover” by internationally best-selling author Isabel Allende is a multigenerational novel that covers San Francisco in the present-day to Poland and the United States in WWll.
It is also the inner story of two very different women in California. The story begins in 2010 when Irina Bazili, a young woman from Moldova with a hidden past, takes a job at Lark House nursing home. There she meets an elderly woman, Alma Mendel Belasco, and her grandson, Seth.
Alma Mendel’s last image of her parents was in Danzig in 1939 as she waved goodbye to them. She was 8-years-old, and her Jewish parents had already sent her older brother to London to serve in the British Royal Air Force.
Alma was sent to San Francisco to live with a wealthy aunt and uncle whom she had never met before.
The narrative goes back and forth in time, beginning with Alma’s arrival in America, becoming friends with Ichimei, the quiet and gentle gardener’s son. Eventually a love affair begins.
When the Fukuda family is sent away to a Japanese internment camp, she is devastated.
Throughout their lifetimes Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again.
Alma hires Irina to be her personal assistant. Seth and Irina work together as they become intrigued by mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma.
They learn about Ichimei Fukada, born in San Francisco, and a relationship that has endured for nearly 70 years. This long time line combines historical events with an interracial romance that endures many obstacles.
Ms. Allende writes movingly when delving into America’s history after Pearl Harbor, when Japanese-Americans were sequestered in internment camps.
The question of identity, abandonment, displacement, love and redemption and fate are explored as is the impact they had on the characters in “The Japanese Lover.”
It is also about choices large and small and the ability of a person to make peace with those choices in old age.