I’ve read quite a few Isabel Allende books, but The Japanese Lover is the first I listened to as an audiobook. While it’s certainly not the high-paced story-telling that lends itself well to going for a run/staying awake on my commute, I did find that the way that an audiobook forces you to enjoy every moment of writing really works wonderfully with Allende’s style.
“I’m fine here, Lenny. I’m discovering who I am without all my ornaments and accessories. It’s quite a slow process, but a very useful one. Everybody ought to do the same at the end of their life. If I had any self-discipline I would beat my grandson to it and write my own memoirs. I have time, freedom, and silence, the three things I never had amidst all the noise of my earlier life. I’m preparing to die.”
The Japanese Lover is told in a series of flashbacks, as the elderly Alma Belasco relays the story of her childhood and her two great loves — Ichimei Fukuda and Nathaniel Belasco — to her aide, Irina Bazili. Alma’s parents send her to San Francisco in 1939, before it’s too late to escape Poland, and she falls in love with the son of her family’s gardener — a Japanese-American who ends up in an internment camp. So there’s a lot of heartbreak in this story. We also see bits of Irina’s past revealed throughout the story — a past she’s guarded fiercely. I figured out a few of the “secrets” well before Allende revealed them, but that did not detract from my enjoyment at all.
It’s a beautiful novel full of horrible events, starring a strong, selfish woman in Alma Belasco. Despite the many poor choices she makes over the course of her life, I never found myself doing anything less than cheering her on. And Irina’s own quiet strength makes for an excellent companion. I really enjoyed this one, and if you’ve been waiting to start reading Allende, this would be a great place to start!