Isabel Allende‘s works have been uneven of late (Witness the mediocre Zorro, yet Ripper had considerable merit. ), but The Japanese Lover demonstrates that she still has considerable literary power.
It’s a complex story which she keeps beautifully simple. We open in a senior community in San Francisco, keeping company with Alma Belasco and her eastern European caretaker, Irina Bazili. The eccentric Belasco is intent on keeping her dignity and her secrets in her old age. Young Irina has her own secrets and major problems dealing with her own troubled past. Allende delicately teases out their histories, thread by thread, unweaving a tapestry of intrigue containing images reaching back into pre-WWII Poland, through the Japanese Internment camps, and into modern times.
Without going too much into the plot because I don’t want to spoil things, I will simply say that it’s a story of great compassion and wisdom, a tale about people who are dealing with pain and seeking healing in a novel that is as much about how to deal with death and dying as it is about how to deal with hope and living. Finally, it is a tribute to the creative imagination, that element that has kept us Allendephiles following her all these years.