A white light seeped through the shoji windows and into the room, along with the morning chill.
Tsukiyama’s sprawling historical fiction title covers Japan before, during and after World War II, yet maintains an intimate tone thanks to richly developed characters. One would expect it to feel like War and Peace in its complexity, with the large time span, several sets of families and multiple interconnecting story lines, but Tsukiyama’s characters and plots are fascinating and clearly drawn. We follow a set of brothers (Hiroshi and Kenji) and sisters (Aki and Haru), whose fates intertwine as they explore the worlds of Noh theatre and sumo wrestling. I never thought I’d have any interest in sumo, but Tsukiyama has a gift for getting the reader invested in the character, and I would have followed Hiroshi’s story with interest no matter his career choice. What stayed with me, though, was not so much the myriad details of these two very different worlds, but a sense of what WWII did to the Japanese civilian population, as they struggled to survive and then rebuild. One character develops significant mental illness, and her suicide is heartbreaking, because the reader has seen her grow from a light-hearted girl to a young woman haunted by what she has lived through. Excellent historical fiction makes us realize our human similarities to people from other times and cultures, growing empathy for the present as well as the past. Tsukiyama is known for popular, often romantic titles- and this is no exception- but she is a writer of skill and taste who broadens readers’ horizons. Actor Stephen Park’s sensitive but unmushy reading strikes just the right note, and the pronunciation of Japanese names and places is refreshingly correct.
Check the BPl catalog for this title: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms