THE SAMURAI'S GARDEN by Gail Tsukiyama


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 A slow and detached narrative tells the story of Hong Kong's Stephen Chan, who, in 1938 at the age of 20, is sent to recover from tuberculosis in his family's summer house in a small Japanese fishing village. Stephen becomes fascinated with the family's faithful and taciturn servant, Matsu, and his mysterious past. The curious Stephen discovers a long-ago love triangle between Matsu, his best friend, Kenzo, and Sachi, a beautiful woman afflicted with leprosy in her youth and now living in a remote leper village in the mountains. Matsu begins to take Stephen on his frequent visits to Sachi. Stephen is entranced by the woman and her sad past (her leprosy brought dishonor to her family and led to Kenzo's rejection of her). Sachi's account of her lonely life is the finest part of the novel: delicate, absorbing, and melancholy. Now she finds happiness only in Matsu's friendship and her treasured rock garden, which Matsu lovingly helped her build, persuading her that she could have beauty in her life once again. While learning of the trio's secret past, Stephen also finds out about his father's furtive long-term affair and worries about the effect this will have on his family back in Hong Kong. Stephen's diary entries make up the novel, but, lacking emotion and passion, he's not a very good diarist. A whirlwind romance with a young Japanese woman does nothing to bring out his oblique personality. Matsu, the devoted gardener and wise friend, is the more intriguing character, but, frustratingly, he's only seen through Stephen's eyes. With Japan's invasion of China, Tsukiyama attempts to cast a dark shadow over the isolated village; but for all her hero's agonizing over whether or not to return to Hong Kong, no sense of wartime tension is evident. An engaging story--a forgotten love triangle coupled with the misery of leprosy--dulled by the dim voice of its narrator.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-11813-9
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1995


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