For a look at Japanese internment, for cross-racial relations, for a story about people
In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world. Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.
While this was not fervently compelling, it had a quiet dignity that held my attention throughout. It’s a story of people. Impressively, despite having a fairly large cast whom we learn about, across multiple generations, each person feels robust and well-known. Even the seemingly smaller characters are given motivation and pain and importance in their way. I loved seeing that, as I think it’s indicative of a world I want to live in: one where every person is known to be a complex person, and so patience is easier to give.
This reminded me a bit of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo in that it’s stories within a story. We hear the long tale of Alma’s life through Irina’s investigations and later, through Alma’s ultimate concession to fill in the blanks. It spans across countries and cultures effortlessly, and blends everyone together in that way that easily unveils how connected we are.
The perspective shifts were generally non-intrusive, but that’s in part because no part of the story was particularly dramatic for me. There weren’t exactly cliffhangers of action, as this is a book of emotion. That is done quite well, and I finished this with no struggle or boredom, despite it being somewhat outside my usual reading style.