The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

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There is nothing quite like an Allende story. I feel like her books read as though she’s right there narrating them to you, like you’re hearing someone’s family history or life story, and yet her description is so evocative and insightful, it’s something more than mere storytelling too.

In this, her latest book, she writes about the intersecting lives of a wealthy woman who has just moved to a retirement home for those with a more alternative lifestyle, and a young woman who works there. Both women are rather hard to get to know for the outsider, and keep themselves to themselves, perhaps because both have a secret past that will soon unravel in the pages of the story. A past that takes in war, the holocaust, child abuse, and the Japanese internment camps.

It’s the story of a love that starts in childhood and spans almost 70 years, and the way that we hide ourselves within to avoid getting hurt. Alma in her later years finds herself opening up to Irina, who doesn’t know how much she needs a true friend. And Irina is running from her dark, haunting past. Can they both find release and finally be loved?

It’s one of those books that although plot wise is a love story (or two love stories), it’s so much more than a romance. There’s history, family, humour, adventure, tragedy and revelations. It’s about growing as a woman, and facing changes, as well as love. Or perhaps you could also say it’s about different kinds of love and how love is healing, love helps us learn to let go if the past.

I loved this book, and like always with Isabel Allende, I read it over two days, with my phone on silent, and my emails unread. It’s beautiful, tragic, uplifting and very beautiful. Another triumph.

Read It If: you love history, female friendship and a good romance. It’s a really lovely book.

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