Friday 12 May 2017

The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover
The Japanese Lover
By Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover is a love story steeped in history, using San Francisco as a backdrop for its measured progression.

The book opens with Irina, a care aide at Lark House, a seniors’ home in San Francisco.  Irina’s life begins in poverty in her native Moldova.  As an immigrant to the U.S., Irina finds that she thrives caring for elderly people and she quickly becomes the most popular staff member at Lark House.  So popular in fact, that Alma Belasco, a wealthy resident, asks Irina to become her personal assistant during her off-shift hours.  Irina, we learn, has a checkered past, but little is revealed about that for some time.

Once Irina begins working for Alma, the narrative shifts and the main storyline quickly becomes about Alma’s life, which begins in Poland in the 1930s.  Later, as Hitler rises to power, Alma is quickly shipped off to relatives in San Francisco.

She eventually grows attached to the American Belasco family, who raises her as a daughter.  At their Sea Cliff mansion, Alma meets Ichimei Fukuda, son of Takeo, the estate gardener.  A close friendship blossoms, but soon the Fukudas are removed to a Japanese internment camp.

Here the narrative switches tracks again, and we learn of the Fukudas’ life as prisoners on American soil.  A thriving family of five when they enter, the Fukudas’ tragic circumstances create rifts that cannot be healed.

Ultimately, these intertwining storylines lead us to the passionate and undying love between Alma and Ichimei.  Their relationship blossoms as they grow into adulthood, although they are often separated for many years at a time.  But in the mid-twentieth century, interracial and inter-class love is still a taboo that neither lover can overcome.

Both Alma and Ichimei lead separate lives, but never forget the passion they share.  Fast forward to Alma in her eighties.  As Alma, her grandson Seth and Irina revisit her storied life, much is revealed about her marriage and her true love.

Irina’s story reveals itself over time.  There are other characters, not mentioned here, who have stories of their own.  The slow unfolding of the narrative continually made me want to read on.  

If there’s anything lacking in the novel it’s Allende’s reluctance to delve too deeply into the characters’ emotional lives. Nevertheless, The Japanese Lover links family, marriage, love, history and tragedy and kept me interested right up until the end.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
By Caitlin Doughty

In preparation for Caitlin Doughty's second book I thought I would re-read her first. This member of the Order of the Good Death is a YouTube favourite of mine. I regularly enjoy her Morbid Minutes and Ask A Mortician series.

Doughty writes very much like she speaks, making this an enjoyable read. I recommend watching a few of her episodes of Ask A Mortician before you take out this book so that you can get her voice and tone in your mind before you read.

In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Doughty takes the reader through the beginning of her carrier as a Mortician. From her start at a crematory through her schooling to become a mortician. Readers learn many of the hidden aspects of the funeral industry; from the corporations behind many funeral homes to how the laws and regulations vary from state to state, traditional burial and natural burial, embalming and cremation and so many other topics that some readers may find hard to face. Doughty has written a clear and educated view of this sometimes taboo subject and she has placed her signature lightheartedness onto every page.

Doughty's use of humour and her complete lack of fear on the subject of death helped me understand sides of death that I didn't even know existed. She breaks down the walls and tells it like it is. One of my favourite chapters is right at the beginning when she gets her first job at the crematory. Doughty describes in detail the process and actually helped to put me at ease. I was one of those people that thought a crematory just threw a bunch of bodies in a big oven and gave the family a bag of random ashes, now I know better, thank you Caitlin!

Whether you are a Deathling or just curious about the funeral industry or maybe you just want to prepare for your own death this book as well as Caitlin Doughty's web series are helpful tools to be enjoyed and learned from.