The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende is a charming book. Set in one of my favourite places, San Francisco, it follows the life of Alma Belasco, from her escape from Poland in 1939, to living out her twilight years in what sounds like the kind of old people’s home that everyone would like to end up in. It’s full of characters seeking redemption and helping each other along the way.
I love Allende’s writing and have read most of her books. This was, as always, beautifully written and full of great characterisation. It also appealed to me as it is set across the span of seventy years, and covers the Second World War – in this case the impact it had on the Japanese community living in America.
It reminded me of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (see my blogs on Armistead Maupin and The Days of Anna Madrigal), in the way that it brought the quirky San Francisco residents to life. As with Maupin’s books, you could feel the warmth of the sun and see the views of the bay from the precipitous city streets as the protagonists made their way about their daily lives. It also reminded me of Amy Tan who writes so fascinatingly about Chinese American lives in San Francisco.
The Japanese Lover is a story of love that has endured across decades. It’s about relationships between husbands and wives, lovers, and friends across the generations, all built on mutual respect. This is a book where the people treat each other well in a believable way, that leaves you with a warm glow and more faith in humanity than you had when you started.