Monday, April 2, 2012

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

Rating:

*****

The book's description from Goodreads:

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu's generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu's soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy. 


The only other book by Gail Tsukiyama I've read is The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (which I loved), and even though The Samurai's Garden is significantly shorter both in number of pages and in scope, it still contains just as much beauty and tenderness. Within the mere 200 pages, I came to care deeply for Sachi and Matsu, and even Stephen. It felt as if I've accompanied them throughout the bigger part of their lives and I still wanted to stay with them for just a little bit longer. There's not much, if any, action in this novel but it's not the kind of book you'd want any quick plot to reside in. There's no need for that. The Samurai's Garden is instead what we all need in our lives sometimes, a slowing down, an almost poetic meditation on the beauty of life and the world around us and within us. Therefore, if you're looking for a quick storyline, find something else to read because you won't find it in here.

Ms Tsukiyama has an uncanny insight into a human being's nature and it shows in this little book perhaps even more than in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms. It's amazing how she can pinpoint our yearnings and our cruelty in a brisk prose that comes as close to poetry as it gets (and even though I don't read poetry, The Samurai's Garden afforded me a glimpse of what I imagine people who love poetry feel when they read their most beloved pieces).

If I had any doubts as to whether I should put Gail Tsukiyama on my 'go to' and 'in case of emergency' lists of authors, I have none anymore. Reaching for The Samurai's Garden and finding my enthusiasm for reading coming back to me again after I'd worried greatly that another major reader's block fell upon me, dispelled all my doubts.

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Gail Tsukiyama has written quite a few more books which makes me all the happier, as now I have many more days and weeks to immerse myself in her fantastic writing. You can learn about them on the website dedicated to the author. 
I am also very happy to announce to any fans (present and future) that Ms Tsukiyama has another novel, A Hundred Flowers, coming out in August from St. Martin's Press.