Hey everyone! I just came back to Japan today (it was an overnight flight), and I'll be going on a class trip tomorrow, so I think I'll be absent till Friday (or maybe Thursday, depending on my state of exhaustion). Anyway, I didn't really know what to expect from this book (apart from the fact that it is Asian fiction), so I basically went in without any preconceived notions.
The Samurai Garden is set during WWII and a sickly young Chinese man named Stephen is sent to a small village in Japan to recuperate. In his family's vacation home is the silent caretaker and no one else. Soon, though, Stephen meets the once-beautiful Sachi, the young Keiko (whom he falls in love with), and others. The story basically meanders through time, with not much plot apart from a journey of self-discovery. It could easily be boring, but I found myself captivated.
Though this is set against the war, the war is not the overarching plot. Sure, it's a constant presence and prompts certain events, but this is not a war novel. In fact, I think his family causes more emotional turmoil.
His family is pretty interesting too - Chinese, but with business connections in Japan. And though there is a lot of drama, as with the war, it never seems to fully take centre stage. The centre stage is reserved for Sachi and Matsu, the caretaker. They are the ones that teach Stephen the most, and I think that apart from Stephen, they are the two most important characters.
There were only two things that brought up questions:
One was Stephen's Japanese. At the start, it seems like he doesn't know much Japanese, but he does have some pretty deep conversations with a bunch of people, so how fluent is he really? The random Japanese words, while a nice touch, don't help the reader to figure this out.
The second was his relationship with Keiko. I know this is a journal entry and it skips around in time, but I never felt convinced of his romance with her. His relationships with Sachi, Matsu and his dad were better.
Overall, though, this is a beautiful piece of writing. The 'flaws' that I pointed out didn't really bother me while I was reading, only after. If you ever want to lose yourself in a different world, you should consider picking up this book.