Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

First, a HUGE thank you to Dasima for sending me this book!  This is the first book to make it to my "Best of 2010" list.  She knew I would love the way this story unfolds in a quiet Asian way, and it transported me into the lush rainy landscape of Malaysia.  It has beautiful language, history, suspense, big themes of torn loyalty and self-discovery....not to mention it is set in Penang.  Thank you Dasima :-) Wikipedia says the author Tan Twan Eng ranks in the top 3 best writers writing today and, I have to agree.

Starting in 1939, the novel tells the story of young Philip Hutton and his friendship with Hayato Endo. Philip, born to a British father and a Chinese mother, finds himself drawn to a mysterious Japanese diplomat and aikido master, and soon becomes his devoted student.  This book varies between modern day with Philip as an old man reflecting back on his life and then seemlessly shifts back to the time he is talking about in 1939 with the Japanese invading Malaysia.

This is an amazing novel for any author but, especially a first time novelist and it is reminding me of Cutting for Stone.  I can see why many felt that this should have won the Man Booker Prize or at least been on the short list (vs. just being on the long list).  If the dreamlike depictions of the lush Malay landscapes don't draw you in, the engaging narrative will. I enjoyed this book a lot and found it easy to lose myself in it's pages for hours.  Despite the beautiful writing, this is not a light book and it is not to be read in short bursts but, rather consumed when you have an hour or more to devour it.  I was sad to finish it and yet felt such a satisfaction and respect for all of the decades of events that had unfolded.  Truly an amazing story that enlightened me about a period of history I was unaware of.

Rating: 4.9 Definite Recommend