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The Samurai’s Garden

July 5, 2010

My brother read this book in high school, loved it and passed it along to me.  I really like Asian literature and The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama was no exception.

In 1937-1938, Chinese-born Stephen (his parents gave their children Christian names since his father “believes it an asset in the business world to be addressed with ease by Westerners”) becomes ill and is sent from Hong Kong to a small village in Japan where the air is clearer and he may recover more quickly.  Once in Tarumi, Stephen meets a cast of characters that forever change his ideas about life, love and loss.

While recovering in Tarumi, Stephen lives with Matsu, the keeper of his grandfather’s house.  Matsu is a quiet and pensive man who is most at home working in his beautiful garden.  Matsu introduces Stephen to his friend Sachi, a beautiful woman who has struggled with her own illness and the unusual set of circumstances that erupted from that illness.  Sachi also finds solace in a garden, but one of beautifully cold stones rather than the vibrant vegetation of Matsu’s garden.

Stephen also meets Kenzo, an old friend of Matsu and Sachi, and Keiko, a beautiful young girl who passes in and out of Stephen’s world in an almost dream-like way.  At the same time, Japan is in the midst of invading China and the complexities of loving both his homeland and the peaceful village where he is recovering is confusing for Stephen.  He spends his days painting, swimming and resting.

In some passages Stephen is painting Matsu’s garden and the way he feels about painting and completing a painting struck so close to home for me, but for me it described reading and completing a book: “The painting’s almost complete and part of me wants to save it, savor the last few strokes like precious drops of water.”

I loved The Samurai’s Garden. Stephen’s journey to recovery via a peaceful village and enchanting friends makes for a fascinating story.  Stephen learns that life is rarely what it seems, people are more complex than you could ever imagine and good friends are the magic that holds your world together.

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