ISABEL ALLENDE’S, “THE JAPANESE LOVER,” is a beautifully written, wonderfully structured, rich with unforgettable characters, and a historically and socially relevant novel on a number of layers.

At the very heart of the novel is the love story between Alma Belasco, who as a young child is send to live with her aunt and uncle and cousins in an opulent San Francisco mansion, and a Japanese gardener, Ichimel Fukuda. Alma is send to live with her relatives because in her home country of Poland the Germans have invaded and the persecution of the Jews is underway.

She is a shy child who eventually opens up when she is introduced to a young Ichimel, who is the son’s gardner and friend to Mr. Belasco. 

Decades later, Alma, nearing the end of a long and eventful life checks herself into the Lark House, a nursing home, where the yard stick used to judge what floor you are on and the level of care you will receive depends on your illnesses and the amount of time you probably have. Floor #1, where Alma is on, is the floor reserved for the healthiest of residents, whereas floor # 4 is reserved for those ready to enter Paradise.

Irina, a care worker who becomes close friends with Alma, and her grandson, Seth, become intrigued with the gifts and letters she receives, and the weekend adventures, away from Lark House, that the eighty year old Alma goes on.

It is through their detective work that the reader takes a journey through the German concentration camps, the unlawful interment of Japanese Americans during World War II, taboos against couples of different races and financial status marrying, prejudice against Gays, child pornography, and the secret love affair between Alma and Ichimel that has been going on for over seventy years.


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