Thursday, November 06, 2008

significant writers: gail tsukiyama

Those who've read something by Gail Tsukiyama will likely have read Women of the Silk or its sequel. I've read those too and, at this point, I've not picked up any of her latest works, but I still have to say she will be hard put to beat the excellence of The Samurai's Garden.

I've made it clear in my previous "significant writers" blogs that I like fine simile and metaphor in my writing. Tsukiyama has all of that, painting pictures like Joyce in Portrait of the Artist, memorable images that even now, not having read The Samurai's Garden for several years, I open my mind eyes and see: sunlight on the Japanese homes, the beach, the sea, the two doomed lovers embracing in a cascade of colour and scent.

Doomed - I had to drop that cliche like a stone into the midst of my praise, didn't I? And why doomed? Because Tsukiyama has a Chinese mother and a Japanese father and, if you follow international events at all, you will know there is a long-standing tension that simmers between China and Japan. If you have never given pause to how that affects love between a man and a woman, The Samurai's Garden will show you in a story wonderfully put together, yes, and painfully put together.

Even though I knew of the atrocities perpetrated on China by Japan in the 1930s - while the world stood by and watched - I honestly had not thought about how the conflict must have tainted personal relationships between the Chinese and Japanese prior to reading the novel. Tsukiyama is well aware. The tale though tragic, is perfect, an incredible glimpse into a cultural agony few of us have pondered or read much about. But as in all good literature, the strength of Tsukiyama's writing is not in the fact she has chosen a neglected and controversial theme. The strength of her writing is her writing.

Born in San Francisco, Tsukiyama is an American jewel, a scintillating artistic light in a nation of many bright literary lights. Having talked briefly about The Samurai's Garden here, it awakens in me a desire to look into what she has penned since, an awakening I hope and believe will afford me many pleasant and intense hours this fall in the chill weeks before the Christmas season.