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Compassion, acceptance celebrated in 'The Japanese Lover'

Compassion, acceptance celebrated in 'The Japanese Lover'

From the Stacks

April 15th, 2018 by Mariah Luebbering, For the News Tribune in Life & Entertainment

Love stories come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes love can conquer all. In other instances, love cannot overcome the pain the past has perpetrated. Love might teach a lesson in which it becomes clear social classes are rather meaningless when love comes calling.

Throughout history, love stories are powerful, moving tales that resonate with readers of all ages because love is universally sought by all people. In "The Japanese Lover," Isabel Allende tells a love story that combines all these truths.

Alma Belasco, a resident of graduated-care facility the Lark House, is rich, artistic and has a secret. Irina Bazili is young, quiet and an excellent listener. Irina comes to Lark House with no references, but her calm disposition and obvious, desperate need for a job persuades the owner of Lark House to allow her to try. Irina quickly becomes a favorite among the Lark House's elderly residents and begins to spend extra time with the eccentric Alma, who takes Irina under her wing. Alma's grandson, Seth, becomes enamored of Irina, and under the pretense of gathering research for a book about his family's history, he visits frequently in order to see the waifish Irina. Together, Irina and Seth begin to investigate Alma's past and put together the pieces that uncover a mystery.

In learning Alma's past, Allende takes the reader back to 1939 in Poland when Alma, just a child, was sent by her parents across the ocean to live out World War II in the safety of California. Young, frightened and very much alone in her new, exotic life, Alma found a friend in the Japanese gardener's son, Ichimei Fukuda. Friendship had grown into the first tender blossoms of romance when Ichimei was torn out of Alma's life by the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The passing years and the wide expanse of cultural differences pulled Alma and Ichimei in opposite directions. However, ghosts from the past continued to bring them into contact again and again. While Ichimei and Alma could not deny that their childish romance had grown into true mature love, they did not know if they could overcome the social pressures and stigmas of the 1950s in the United States.

The background of this story of interracial romance, which spans 60 years, is a turbulent history flowing by almost too fast to see the effects. The characters in this drama deal not just with internment camps and Nazi Germany, but also illegal abortions and the AIDS epidemic. At the end of "The Japanese Lover" two facts are clear: All people have secrets, but compassion and acceptance are the keys to overcoming all obstacles.

Mariah Luebbering is a children and reference clerk at Missouri River Regional Library.