A United Nations civil servant recalls his complicated bond with a German friend and his Japanese violinist wife in this debut novel.
Mark Graham Sanders, a divorced U.N. human resources officer in his mid-40s, has a “fortuitous encounter” in 1999 while sketching in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which leads to his experiencing “that misty line” between love and friendship. Specifically, he meets a professional violinist named Yukari, the wife of Hans, a U.N. economist colleague. Mark is immediately attracted to her, and she seems drawn to him; she soon admits to Mark that she was contemplating leaving her husband after discovering that he’d had an affair. Yet the marriage continues on, aided, oddly, by their friendship with Mark. The trio enjoys many evenings of music and culture together and even discovers that their families were acquainted generations ago. As a pledge to their friendship, Mark and Hans plant blue roses in the U.N. garden, which also reflect the color of a dress that Yukari wears. After one intoxicating evening, Hans and Yukari sleep over at Mark’s apartment and conceive a child. The news of Yukari’s pregnancy arrives, however, just as Hans, frustrated in his career, decides to go on assignment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mark gladly steps up to watch over Yukari, and the two grow ever closer. Then unexpected news comes from abroad, followed by the baby’s birth, and then tragedy. Debut author Keith probes the many shades of love, honor, and friendship in this musing, elegiac narrative. First-person narrator Mark is engagingly flawed; over the course of the story, he comes to realize just how despicable he was to have divorced his first wife due to their failure to conceive a child. The novel is a bit overloaded with international details, however, even encompassing a very minor character’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The best scenes are those that focus on the main trio’s dynamics, such as when Yukari makes love to Hans before whispering her love to Mark in the dark. Overall, it’s an elegant debut.
A skillful tale that explores relationship nuances and redemption.