CompleteMartialArts.com - The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
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Manufacturer: St. Martin's Press
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Dewey Decimal Number: 813.54
Format: Bargain Price
Label: St. Martin's Press
Manufacturer: St. Martin's Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 432
Publication Date: 2007-09-04
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 2007-09-04
Studio: St. Martin's Press
“Just remember,” Yoshio said quietly to his grandsons. “Every day of your lives, you must always be sure what you’re fighting for.”
It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers are growing up with their loving grandparents, who inspire them to dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows unusual skill at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of creating hard-carved masks for actors in the Noh theater.
Across town, a renowned sumo master, Sho Tanaka, lives with his wife and their two young daughters: the delicate, daydreaming Aki and her independent sister, Haru. Life seems full of promise as Kenji begins an informal apprenticeship with the most famous mask-maker in Japan and Hiroshi receives a coveted invitation to train with Tanaka. But then Pearl Harbor changes everything. As the ripples of war spread to both families’ quiet neighborhoods, all of the generations must put their dreams on hold---and then find their way in a new Japan.
In an exquisitely moving story that spans almost thirty years, Gail Tsukiyama draws us irresistibly into the world of the brothers and the women who love them. It is a world of tradition and change, of heartbreaking loss and surprising hope, and of the impact of events beyond their control on ordinary, decent men and women. Above all, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is a masterpiece about love and family from a glorious storyteller at the height of her powers.
Spotlight customer reviews:
Summary: Japan immersion beautifully created, but too much denial perhaps!
Comment: This is an outstanding and highly creative literary work; wonderful storytelling of the life of a Tokyo family pre, during and post the Second World War. Two brothers, two sisters, elderly grandparents, a sad mask maker and few other interesting characters are thrown into the mix. Sumo wrestling is the passion of the older brother and also of his grandfather, so there is a lot to know about Sumo, its rituals, history and mystique. A bit less of the Japanese Noh theater and its traditions and especially its masks which are to become the passion of the younger brother. The periods of the story covering the war were truly griping the portrayal came across very real, astonishingly real in its detail and giving the reader the real texture of life those terrifying days of hunger and fear. Tsukiyama's description of the damage to Tokyo from the firebombing, the grey everywhere and the emergence of a little green life months later was masterful.
I could not help feeling that Tsukiyama had exaggerated the anti war feeling amongst ordinary Japanese especially in the period leading up to the war. Virtually every single character we are supposed to care about was against the war...I wonder how representative this was of the Japanese society then! Were the Japanese essentially against the war and only their misguided leaders and those few self serving hypocrites that formed this image of a fanatical nation? I wonder but I am not convinced.... It is wonderful to see a sympathetic account of the lives of those ordinary human beings who just happen to have been on the side of the aggressor nation; it is also a cause for a re-examination of the justice and the morality of the horrors of the firebombing and the atomic bombing of Japanese cities ...I am not sure though that an exaggeration of the anti war feeling helps even though it makes the characters more sympathetic. Somehow this single but crucial point colored my enjoyment of this beautiful novel and made me often feel that the story lose some of its genuineness, its integrity to a certain extent.
While Tsukiyama had attempted to give us complete three dimensional characters, I felt that none of the characters were really sufficiently developed save perhaps for the master mask maker. Indeed there were the weaknesses, faults and difficult traits in everyone but these were somehow just very small shadows on otherwise two dimensional personalities; the strong brother, the sensitive artistic brother, the all wholesome granny, the responsible sister ..etc.
Still despite of these two important defects (antiwar sentiment and character development), Tsukiyama totally immersed me in a different time and culture. Tsukiyama style is wonderful in its detail and texture, her use of Japanese words always enhanced the book rather than detracted from the flow, she is, in particular, incredibly talented in creating a vivid picture of the scenery and place, you will feel that you have really witnessed Japan first hand. As someone fond of most things Japanese, I loved being there while reading The Street of A Thousand Blossoms!
Summary: Hail Gail
Comment: Very moving and educational - never knew I'd be so absorbed by sumo wrestling and Noh mask making! Have enjoyed all of her books - but this one I could not put down. Wonderful character development. Learning about the Japanese people during World War II was an eye opener - creating unexpected sympathy.
Summary: Somewhat enjoyable, but it remained average for me.
Comment: After reading Gail Tsukiyama's Women of the Silk, a novel set in China, I knew that she was a writer that I was going to be hunting up again for future reads. But now that I've finished The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, I'm not too certain any more.
Set in Japan during World War II and for nearly two decades afterwards, the novel tells the story of two families that are faced with deprivation, death and eventual survival. Yoshio and Fumiko Wada are raising their grandsons, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsuyama after their daughter and son-in-law have perished in a tragic accident. They adore the boys, giving them encouragement and a safe enviroment to grow up in. Hiroshi is strong and getting taller every day, already a budding wrestler that is dreaming of becoming a sumo champion. His brother, Kenji, is quieter and much more of an introvert. Kenji dreams of being an artist, and despite being bullied relentlessly at school, eventually finds sanctuary with a maker of masks for the Noh theatre, Akira Yoshiwara, an ancient art form that Kenji embraces with a passion.
But when the Japanese invade Pearl Harbor and war begins against the Americans, the Wadas find their life in Tokyo shattered. There are food shortages, the depredations of the kempeitai, the police force, as they confiscate everything of value, and finally, the terrible firebombings towards the end of the war. Hiroshi and Kenji along with their grandparents have survived, but at terrible costs, and they're not alone either.
The Tamadas, the father running a stable of sumo wrestlers, and the mother, a former geisha, have two daughters that they are raising. There was hope for a son, but both girls show great promise. Haru, the elder, is the 'good' daughter, dutiful, helping her mother run the household, and Aki, the younger, is a bundle of mischief, inheriting her mother's great beauty, but also not quite as focused as her sister. As with the Wadas, bit by bit, everything is stripped away, the wrestlers being taken by the army to serve in distant wars, food becoming ever more scarce, and when the firestorms come, eventual tragedy.
Tamada rebuilds his stable of wrestlers, seeing in Hiroshi the promise of not just being good but a great sumo champion. Hiroshi enters the training and otherworldly life of sumo, while Kenji goes on to university, becoming a scholar. As for Tanaka's daughters, both of them are taken with Hiroshi -- which girl will the sumo wrestler choose? And what does fate have in store for the families who have survived such terrible times?
I have to say, I really wanted to like this novel. I love reading about other cultures and times, and anytime I get a chance to learn something new, I leap at it. Tsukiyama gives a great deal to the feel of this novel, using Japanese terms and expressions to great effect, and able to convey meaning without going into too much of an explain mode. That's the good part, along with some bits of very vivid description.
And therein lays the problem with this novel. It's all delivered up in bits. Chapters are not much more than several paragraphs at a time, giving tiny little vignettes into the lives of these characters. Too, the writing style and language is very simplistic, without any real poetry to the words, nothing that is evocative or lyrical in the story. Only very briefly does anything really shine through, and there's a lot of wading through very bleak prose to get there. Another failing are the characters, all of whom are either very good, or very bad, and almost no one in a grey area. This too, makes for dull reading.
Hiroshi, while he does have flashes of normal human behavior, is a stoic man, enduring setbacks and tragedies without a flicker it seems of emotion. Aki is the stereotypical beautiful butterfly of a girl without a lick of sense or backbone to her. Kenji is the sensitive artist who withdraws into his own world. Haru is the perpetual disappointed woman, who keeps hoping that the man she loves will notice her.
And this is where the novel truly flops. It seems that almost every novel that I've read lately about Japan has geisha in it, and once again, we have geisha portrayed as near prostitutes, seducing their clients. For heaven's sake, the Geisha of Kyoto and Tokyo are not selling sex, and while westerners keep perpetuating this myth, it gets very annoying to have to read this take over and over and over again. If you want to find out what geisha are -- and more importantly, are not, seek out the books on the topic by Liza Dalby -- they are a real eye-opener.
Along with the story, there are several additional features in this. There's an interview and essay with the author, and questions for reading groups to discuss.
Will I bother to read more of Gail Tsukiyama's novels after this? Probably -- Women of the Silk was a beautiful novel to read about a world that I knew nearly nothing about. But Street of a Thousand Blossoms failed miserably for me; I found it to be just another novel, the characters too unfocused and overwhelming in numbers, the writing style too choppy to flow well, and the plot and twists too contrived to feel natural.
That's just too bad, as the author can do better than this.
Summary: Ambitious but Flawed
Comment: It is clear what Gail Tsukiyama wants to communicate in her newest novel, "The Street of a Thousand Blossoms." The book strives to convey love, loss, coming-of-age, the horrors of war, the rebuilding of a nation--and throw in a little instruction in Japanese culture to boot.
Spanning more than thirty years immediately before, during, and after World War II, "Blossoms" follows the lives of the residents of Yanaka, a suburb of Tokyo. It finds its main characters in Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto, two young boys taken in by their grandparents after the death of their mother and father, and quickly expands to chronicle the lives of those around them: their grandparents, the sumo coach who nurtures Hiroshi's burgeoning talent, the mask maker who draws the quiet Kenji into the world of the theatre. The novel's subject is nothing less than the breadth and scope of these people's entire lives.
Clearly, then, the characters should be the story's driving force. But this is where the book stumbles. The characters feel a little too controlled, as if Tsukiyama does not trust them to tell their own story. She is too ready to describe feelings and frame dialogue in terms of platitudes and expected turns--a shame, because she has a wonderful gift for simile and metaphor. She is capable of beautiful, evocative choices of words, which makes it all the more disappointing that she so often relies on old saws. Meanwhile, her characters, once in a great while, say or do something truly unexpected, and thus freed, they transform into the most convincing human beings. If these moments, scattered throughout the book, were more common, Tsukiyama might have truly achieved the depth she seems to seek.
Instead, the thinness of her presentation creates the sense that the characters and story are subservient to the themes she wants to portray. The narration is given to fits of exposition that tell in a paragraph exactly how a character is feeling or what happens to them after a certain event, a too-pat approach that causes parts of the novel to feel rushed even though it's more than 400 pages long.
Alternatives suggest a reading list: those interested in the history of Japan after World War II should read John Dower's Embracing Defeat, to which Tsukiyama acknowledges a debt for this novel. Those seeking a novel about the changing Japan of this era should consider Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters. And readers simply new to Tsukiyama's work should read The Samurai's Garden instead.
"Blossoms" by no means fails miserably; it is reasonably entertaining. But it's hard to recommend a book when the best thing you can say about it is that worse has been written. Tsukiyama seems to be grasping at timelessness here, but she would have done well to let it arise from the more intimate, character-driven storytelling at which she excels.
Summary: A beautiful yet sad story
Comment: I love this writers work. This was a very wonderful story but very sad. I enjoy the poetic way Gail Tsukiyama writes and have enjoyed all of her work. I gave this one 4 stars because it dragged in parts and I wanted to hear more about the No masks and theatre. The writing style kept me turning the pages.