The first thing you may notice about bestselling novelist Isabel Allende’s newest book, The Japanese Lover, is its gorgeously designed cover. Beyond that, her story quickly pulls you in and comes to life. This epic novel spans eighty years and the lives of her two female protagonists: Alma
Belasco, the matriarch of a prominent San Francisco family and Irina Bazili, her part-time caregiver and confidant. Set in present day at a senior living community, Alma’s life seems shrouded by a great mysterious love. Irina was raised by her grandparents in povertystricken Poland, and has a deep affection and reverence for the elders she works with, particular Alma. Alma’s story is rooted to 1939 when, as a young Jewish-Polish girl, she is separated from her brother and parents and sent from Poland to the safety of her aunt and uncle in San Francisco. Feeling alone and abandoned, she is drawn to the Japanese gardener’s son, Ichimei Fukuda, and quickly develops a close friendship. After Pearl Harbor is bombed, the Fukuda family is forced to move into a Japanese internment camp, first housed in a racetrack and then in a camp in the desert of Utah. Despite being separated by circumstances, Alma and Ichimei are secretly reunited many times throughout their lifetimes. Their love story is revealed through the letters and tokens sent from Ichimei, and by what Alma later confides to Irina and her grandson, Seth. The Japanese Lover touches on the aging process and legacy, race and identity, abandonment and reconciliation, and our capacity for love. It is a delicious read— just don’t expect it to run too deep into the historical accounts of the last century.