This is my fourth read of Stephen Swartz. As expected, the theme of the book is different from the others, like Exchange or A Girl called Wolf, but the treatment of man-woman relationships is similar to A Beautiful Chill.
The setting is different too, Japan this time. And the main theme that I fathomed from the read is the Fatherhood – an initiation and journey – but under highly unconventional and melancholic circumstances.
Rich, informative descriptions of Japanese landscapes, weather, homes and culture add an authentic feel to the read.
The story begins slowly, but surely and stays steady while it builds up some suspense along the way, right till the very end. A few unexpected twists and turns pepper the emotions with sadness and loss.
Benjamin has made some mistakes in his life. He puts his glowing career and marriage with Addy at stake when he follows his heart, that takes him all the way to Japan. What happens there? Does he have a joyous reunion with his former love Hanako? Or does a new relationship blossom with her friend Tomoko? The book explores multiple layers of man-woman relationships and the complications that come with them. It also explores the challenges of fatherhood, for a clueless man in the process of re-discovering himself.
It is a display of how cultural differences play havoc with love and relationships. Further, language barriers cause heartbreak, pain and irreversible loss. The immigration challenges of fetching a loved one across international borders is showcased well. Amidst all of this, sprouts innocence and purity, in the form of a child, Aiko – Love Child – that is bound to tug at the heartstrings of readers.
Benjamin and Hanako showcase love that transcends all barriers of culture, nationality, language and race. Addy, as the wife is typically convincing. Additional characters like that of Tomoko showcase the hardships of women caught in a quagmire of lost ‘foreign’ love and societal barriers.
One’s heart goes out to the grandmother Obasan, though. It is heartbreaking how she loses her close loved ones, especially towards the end.
The smooth and flawless narrative style enhanced with the flashbacks that keep adding meat to the present. Every new chapter opens up another view into the past and either solves a piece of some puzzle or peppers the story with more suspense. It is slow and steady, a kind of style where one can relax with a glass of wine, only to back up and absorb the shock of yet another twist that arrives without warning.
The descriptions add meaning to the storyline. The bathing ritual of washing oneself while seated on a stool, before entering the bathtub – another interesting contraption with multiple seating arrangements within it – are eye-openers to the culture of the Japanese. The food descriptions are mouth-watering as well, in their healthy simplicity.
The most interesting aspect is how Japanese words and dialogues add authenticity to the confusion and misunderstanding that is crucial to the storyline.
I rate the book 4.5 out of 5. Extra points for bringing out the cultural differences and societal nuances with aplomb.
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