Tag Archives: Gail Tsukiyama

Book Club Reflection: The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

9 Nov

 

My book club met a few weeks ago to discuss Gail Tsukiyama’s novel The Samurai’s Garden. I wasn’t a huge fan of this book because I was looking for a little more action in the plot, but I did think the characters were beautifully done. Most people in the group really liked the book. One recommended the audiobook, which she particularly enjoyed. The writing was very poetic and soothing which made for good listening.

It’s no wonder the book was so poetic because Tsukiyama started her career in poetry. We learned a little about the author and I wasn’t surprised to hear she was born of a Japanese mother and Chinese father. She didn’t live through World War II, but her parents likely told her stories of the war. She likes to write about interactions between different Asian cultures and Western culture. We saw the Western influence in this book with Stephen’s father and even the names he chooses for his children. She also likes to write about women’s rights in Asian culture. We touched a bit on Stephen’s mother and her rights which I will get to later.

Stephen and Sachi had a lot of similarities and were well juxtaposed next to each other. They were both sick and suffering from their illness, but they dealt with it differently. Stephen ignored his illness as much as possible, several times pushing himself beyond his limited and endangering himself. Sachi, on the other hand, was rather stable but was very cautious of her deformity. Stephen grew from his illness, especially after the fire where he had to take responsibility and help despite his illness and restrictions. Seeing Hiro work so hard despite his illness pushed Stephen to do the same and he realized his responsibilities.

We all thought the relationship between Keiko and Stephen was cute. It reminded us of when we read The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet a few months ago. (A boy with an Anglo name and a girl named Keiko, one Chinese the other Japanese, WWII, I could go on.) She didn’t see a problem with Stephen until her father said something. She knew it wasn’t ‘right’ but didn’t really see a problem with it at first. It wasn’t until she was personally affected by ‘the Chinese’ as a group that she had an issue. Until then, Stephen was Stephen. After her brother died, Stephen was ‘one of them.’ She only saw him as part of a larger group.

The relationships between Matsu, Kenzo, and Sachi drove a lot of the plot. We wondered if Kenzo had not been in the picture or had moved to Tokyo, would Matsu and Sachi had a more obvious relationship? As it was, they were clandestine and hid their relationship from others, even Stephen for most of the novel. When Kenzo realizes that Keiko cares for Matsu, even if it’s only as a friend, he is angry and he shakes himself in how he treats Sachi. He is very mean and insults her. It makes him realize he is a coward for not going to see her and  as we’ve seen in this culture, that shame is not tolerable.

There was a lot of suicide in this book and it stuck out to us how differently suicide was treated in this book from how we perceive it in our culture. When Sachi is sick, she sees it as an obligation to kill herself. My Wikipedia research gave me a great summary of this topic in Bushido (Samurai Code):

Bushido expanded and formalized the earlier code of the samurai, and stressed frugality, loyalty, mastery of martial arts, and honor to the death. Under the bushido ideal, if a samurai filed to uphold his honor he could only regain t by performing seppuku (ritual suicide).

This idea of seppuku comes into the book in many forms. Using this as a guideline, Sachi breaks bushido when she doesn’t kill herself when her disease takes hold. Matsu breaks the code by leaving his garden and master regularly to take care of Sachi. There’s a story from a few years ago about a Japanese businessman who killed himself over recalls. (Note- this isn’t unusual in business and is not unique to Japan, but serves as an interesting fact with this book.) Matsu tells Stephen that for Sachi, “It takes greater courage to live (p 139).”

Though this code seems to define life for many of our characters, many of them break it and become heroic for their actions. Matsu leaves the garden and helps build a community for lepers. Stephen was sent away because of his TB but helps save the village when he leaves his confinement. Matsu is helping second-class citizens who ‘dirty’ him to make productive lives which should ‘shame him. Those who are brave enough to fight back are our heroes.

Pie also breaks the code in her own little way. She doesn’t tell her mother about her volunteer time with the Red Cross and is, in effect, dishonoring her master/mother. Again, we find her actions heroic because she is helping the wounded Chinese soldiers and victims. There’s no denying Tsukiyama likes to make a point about cultures!

If we can connect Matsu, Sachi, and Stephen to the samurai code, who is the samurai in the title? It makes the most sense to say the garden it Matsu’s because he tends to it prior to the plot. However, Sachi is a strong warrior and she has her own garden of stones in addition to helping Matsu repair his garden when it’s ruined. Stephen helps in the garden as well and paints it, his artistic outlet. Really, we decided, it could be any of the main characters except for Kenzo. His character was cowardly. When Sachi and Stephen are sitting in the garden, she explains the significance of the bridge to him.

Matsu once told me the bridge represented the samurai’s difficult path from this world to the afterlife. When you reach the top of the bridge, you can see y our way to paradise. (38)

We found it interesting to note that Keiko’s brother is the only soldier character in the book. Stephen and King, the two military-aged men we know by name, don’t fight. It seems interesting that in a book set so starkly against a backdrop of war, there’s only one small part of a soldier.

There was a struggle to find peace in solitude for the three main characters. Our group really concluded that while they were at peace with their solitude, they came alive and grew when they were with other people. Matsu was fine alone, but in Yamaguchi and with Stephen he came out of his shell. Sachi needed people around her in Yamaguchi and Matsu to find peace. Stephen was okay with being alone in Tarumi but came alive when he saw Keiko and her sister. There can be an acceptance of loneliness, but with others the characters grew.

The affair between Stephen’s parents seemed out-of-place and unneeded to me. I think it was the author’s attempt to make a statement about women’s rights and it didn’t do anything for me. It was about money during a depression when they were lucky to have what they did. The two were blaming each other for their own actions and it seemed like his mother was trying to get Stephen to her side. We thought it was strange that the mother would turn to her son with something so personal to ask for help, but she really had no other options. We were all a bit surprised that he lied to his mother about the money. It seemed out of character for him.

As a group, we had very few problems with this novel. Some felt that Stephen came across as very ‘feminine,’ as if the author didn’t take herself out of the character enough. His thoughts were a bit emotional and he seemed ‘soft,’ though some attributed that to his upper-class upbringing. My personal issue was with the diary format. At the beginning and end, the writing seemed like a diary to me, but that was 5 pages out of 200. The rest felt like a narrative and I thought it would have been stronger if the whole thing was written as a narrative. But again, I’m picky.

Our next book is Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety which I already began and am loving.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Advertisements

Book Review: The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (3/5)

26 Oct

Has anyone else noticed there are a lot of books about World War II era lately? I’ve read a lot, but maybe that’s just me. What I’ve noticed is that a lot more of them are focused on the Asian aspect of the war and I find that really interesting. This book focused on a part of the war I’d never considered, the Chinese and Japanese aggression in the late 30s. This was something I didn’t know anything about it I liked learning about it through a book. My book club read this book after a librarian ordered it for us so I’m not sure who will like it, but I think it will be a good discussion.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

Summary from Goodreads:

A 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu’s secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu’s generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu’s soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.

This is the most character-driven story I’ve read in a long time. It was refreshing in a way, but also reminded me why I like plot-driven stories. Stephen comes to Tarumi sick and leaves not only recovered, but renewed in spirit. No singular thing happens to change his life course, no discovery is so profound that it changes him forever, but through a series of events and learnings, he grows. Matsu is an interesting agent for these changes because Matsu is so quiet and stoic, an unlikely character to lead Stephen on this journey. Sachi was an interesting twist to add though I’m still struggling through her purpose. Overall, I had some mixed feelings on this book. I enjoyed it while reading it, but in reflection I didn’t get much out of it and felt there was a lot more I would have liked to read about these characters afterward.

The characters were believable to me. I thought that for such a small cast, the characters had a wide variety of personalities. Matsu seemed hard to believe at first but as his story came out and we learn more about his sister and Sachi, he’s easier to understand. I wished Keiko was better developed because she seemed to have so much more potential as a character. I wanted to understand better why Stephen was so attracted to her.

Sachi was my favorite character. I thought she had the best story and I liked how we learned about her as the story went without too much being revealed at the beginning. She grew on me slowly and that made it more fun. In the beginning, I didn’t know what made her so strong yet shy. Those things seemed at ends with each other to me. As I learned more, I saw her as a woman who refused to give up but was still ashamed of how she looked. Matsu was the source of her strength and she learned to be strong when he wasn’t around.

Stephen was a good narrator because he was easy to relate to. His situation reminded me of starting a new job; when  you’re thrust into a situation with strangers and you have to learn how to tread in order to be accepted and to make friends. He wasn’t sure how to act around Matsu and wasn’t sure when to insert himself into his new companion’s personal life. He had to let Matsu make the first moves on that front. At the same time, he’s deciding how much of himself to share with Matsu and both take slow approaches. It’s how we make friends and I think that story is relatable for most humans.

Image via Youtube

Gail Tsukiyama Image via Youtube

I thought the fire in Yamaguchi was a great scene in the book. It helped develop the relationship between Sachi and Matsu and helped Stephen grow physically. Stephen’s health was the reason he went to Tarumi and the fire showed that poor health was no longer keeping him there. We also learned more about Matsu’s relationship with Yamaguchi and Sachi and this is before Sachi tells her story. I thought it was a well-developed scene.

I thought the relationship problems between Stephen’s parents didn’t do anything for the plot. I think nothing would have been different had that not been a part of the story. It took a character I was indifferent about and made me dislike him while it made me frustrated with Stephen for not fighting more for his mother’s rights. I think it could have been left out and the story would have still been strong.

 

Stephen changes a lot in his year at Tarumi. He sees a lot of things he wasn’t exposed to in Hong Kong and missed out on being exposed to a lot of bad things had he stayed in China. He’s able to see prejudices while avoiding bombs and witness compassion instead of ruthless destruction. Stephen left his home and education to find a new home and learn different lessons. We can learn wherever we are, even a leper village in Japan. And not all lessons are taught in schools; some we have to learn by doing.

Writer’s Takeaway: The garden played a very central role in the book in a very subtle way. It was what centered Matsu and what helped give Sachi purpose when she lost hers. It was calming and beautiful. I thought it was interesting that the only painting Stephen did in the whole book was of the garden. It was a central gathering point, a common interest, among the three main characters, something no one else in the book noticed or talked about. I liked that it was a very public private secret. It helped join the characters together and though the title at first makes you think it will take a more central role in the book, it also helps point out the role it is playing.

An enjoyable book, though not my cup of tea. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Review: Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden | Integral Psychosis
Two posts from jhAntAng-mAntAnG
Day Eighty-Seven– The Samurai’s Garden | oneday2013
On Gail Tsukiyama’s “The Samurai’s Garden” | Litbeetle

WWW Wednesday, 21-October-2015

21 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


CloudAtlasCurrently reading:  Not much with Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell this week. Unless it gets really interesting really quickly, I’m not sure I’ll finish it this year.
Still nothing with I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.  I’ve got to get through Cloud Atlas first. Yikes.
Steady progress Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. The writing in this book is really great and I’m excited I’m finally finding the time to read it.
I’m super close to finishing Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson. I’ve made a few longer car trips this month which helped me get through it. I’m wondering if Bryson’s other books are like this. I have A Walk In the Woods on my shelf and I hope it’s a little different as a memoir than this non-fiction.
Steady progress on  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.I’m about half-way through and I don’t remember much of the story at all. This all feels really new to me so it’s exciting to see what happens next still.

SamuraiRecently finished: I finished  The Samurai’s Garden by Gayle Tsukiyama on Friday. I liked the ending and found it fitting, but it still felt very open-ended. This will be an interesting book club discussion.

Just one book review this past week and I think a lot of you already checked it out. Please take a look at my review of Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling’s) The Silkworm. I gave it Four out of Five stars and really enjoyed the story. I’m glad she’s started a mystery series!

AnneFrankReading Next: I hope to start Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut pretty soon as I’m getting close on 451. It’s a good time for classics.
Even more classics, I should have time to start Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen before my next book club selection. I might have to stretch this one out a bit to fit in those other books, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
The next audiobook for my car is going to be The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read this one. I’ve seen the play, but never read the book in school or had another reason to pick it up. I’ve been admonished enough and I’m excited to read the word’s right from Anne’s hands.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 14-October-2015

14 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


451Currently reading:  I’ve made a bit of progress on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell but I’m stuck in the middle of the book, in the Hawaii section, and so overly uninterested that it’s a struggle to keep going. I’ll keep making my way as best I can.
No progress on I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Stand by.
I’m getting close to finishing The Samurai’s Garden by Gayle Tsukiyama. I might even finish it today I’m so close!
I’m going to jump on Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson as soon as I finish Samurai. I’m excited to get back into it.
I made major progress with Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson while driving to and from Indiana for a conference this weekend. I’d like to think my progress with this book makes up for my lack of progress with Samauri and Cloud Atlas but I’m not sure it works that way.
I began a new audiobook for Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury on Sunday. I was going to read my physical copy of this book, but listening to the audio will give me more time to get through some other physical books I’ve been slacking on. So far the narrator’s really good and I’m enjoying Bradbury again.

Talk About RunningRecently finished: I finished up the last twenty minutes What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami as I drove to Indiana. I liked this one and related to Murakami as a writer and athlete. I especially liked when he talked about triathlons! Yes, major geek moments for me.

And two book reviews for you all this week! Please check out my reviews of Bird Box by Josh Malerman (5 stars) and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (3 Stars). I know a lot of you had been asking me what I thought of these so let me know if you agree, disagree, now hate me, etc. I’m about caught up on reviews and there will be one more tomorrow!

SenseReading Next: For an audiobook on my phone, I still plan to pick up Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, I’m pushing this back a little bit, but I do want to get to it.
I’ve been meaning to read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen for ages. I have a really cool copy of the book that shows you where to fold the pages to make book-art out of it to spell out Love. That proably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I’ll be sure to post pictures when I finish.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 7-October-2015

7 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Made in AmericaCurrently reading:  I’ve been picking at Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It’s renewed again and I’ll keep working on it, but I’m still not engaged. I think I’m close to this magical event in the middle that everyone says will blow my mind, but I’m not there yet. I hope it happens?
I don’t even have I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai checked out anymore. I should probably take it off this list.
I’m working my way through The Samurai’s Garden by Gayle Tsukiyama. I’m about a third of the way through it and I’m enjoying it so far. It was a bit slow to start but has a good pace now.
I haven’t read any of Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson this week, but I hope to pick it up for a bit after I finish ‘Samurai’s Garden.’
I wanted a new audiobook for my car so I went to the library and got Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson. I wanted to read this one to see what I could learn about English in the 1920s when my book is set. So far I’m in pre-Revolutionary America and I’m finding myself zoning out a lot. Not good! Maybe I’ll be more interested when we get to the 20th Century.
I also started a new phone audiobook, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. As a runner (or would be runner, darn tendonitis) and writer, I was intrigued by this book. Murakami’s really cocky but has some great insight and I’m enjoying this so far. It’s short, a little over 4 hours, so I hope to get through it quickly.

Never ToldRecently finished: I finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng late last week. Parts of the ending were satisfying, parts were disappointing. It raised my expectations for my Ford Audiobook Club selections to be sure. 3 out of 5 stars and a review coming next week.

One book review this week again, The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. I liked this book though it’s not my favorite of her Tudor series. Let me know what you think.

SlaughterhouseReading Next: I’m still planning on picking up Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury next week. I’ll read some of Out Stealing Horses in the meantime, but this is next as a physical book.
For an audiobook on my phone, I’ll probably pick up Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve never read this classic and it feels wrong to me.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 30-September-2015

30 Sep

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


SamuraiCurrently reading:  At least I can say I read some of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell this week though it’s embarrassingly little. It’s honestly stalled for me and I’m having trouble being engaged.
I guess you can figure out I didn’t read any of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. To be continued…
I picked up with Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng again. I’ll get through it soon, I’m enjoying the story.
I picked up The Samurai’s Garden by Gayle Tsukiyama for my book club on Tuesday night. I’m looking forward to reading this one as another woman from our club has enjoyed it.
I needed a new ‘in between book,’ one I pick up in between reading book club books. I grabbed Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson from my shelf, one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I hope it’s good!

Bird BoxRecently finished: Two finished! One physical and one audio. I got through Bird Box by Josh Malerman on Friday. I was waiting for my husband at our campsite for our bike event and I couldn’t put it down! A full 5 out of 5.
I also finished The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith on Monday. I liked the story, but I felt like I wasn’t given enough information to try to figure out the killer by myself. Oh well.

One book review this last week. It was The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Please let me know if you’ve read it and what you thought.

451Reading Next: Well, it’s time for the next book club selection! We’re going with a classic this time and I’ll be picking up Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I read this my Sophomore year of high school and don’t remember much so it will be fun to pick it up again as an adult and see what I think.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 23-September-2015

23 Sep

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Bird BoxCurrently reading:  I honestly am embarrassed at how slowly I’m getting through Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I checked it out again, but I’m not sure I got through anything new with it. I haven’t had a lot of chance for an eBook lately. Maybe soon?
I guess you can figure out I didn’t read any of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. To be continued…
No progress with Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I hope to finish it up soon, though!
Making great progress on The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith! This one is really great and has grabbed my attention. I read on Galbraith/Rowling’s Twitter feed that the third in the series will be coming out soon so I’m excited to get my hands on it quickly.
I started copy of Bird Box by Josh Malerman Sunday night. Not too far into it yet, but I’ve heard it’s a hit-or-miss book. I’m inclined to like it because it’s the perfect time of year for a creepy book and the author’s hometown is 20 minutes from me!

Boleyn InheritanceRecently finished: I finished The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory on Sunday. It was a solid read, what I’ve come to expect from Gregory’s Tudor series. I think I’m close to reading them all now, but new ones keep coming out!

Another week of two book reviews. This time around it was Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian (3/5) and The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (3/5). Let me know your thoughts on these titles as well.

SamuraiReading Next: I’m missing my next book club meeting because of a test, but I’m picking back up again soon after. We’ll be reading The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. I’m looking forward to it as one woman read it before and really liked it!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!