Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Review-The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng
THE GIFT OF RAIN
Tan Twan Eng
“I was born with the gift of rain, an ancient soothsayer in an even more ancient temple once told me.” The first line of the story begins as the elder Philip Hutton recalls his life’s story. The fortune-teller cautions Philip early on: “You were born with the gift of rain. Your life will be abundant with wealth and success. But life will test you greatly. Remember-the rain also brings the flood.”
Philip is the storyteller, his listener is Michiko Murakami a woman who shows up one evening at his home, during the rain. She brings with her a package, a sword. A sword Philip immediately recognizes as that of his beloved Endo-san, his sensei. It is not until the end of the story that the significance of this sword will be learned.
The Gift of Rain takes place on the Malayan island of Penang in 1939. Philip is the son of an affluent British merchant of social prominence living on the Malayan island of Penang at the beginning of World War II. His father owns Hutton & Sons, a company founded by his great-grandfather. His father’s first wife died leaving three children. His mother was Yu Lian, his father’s second wife. Philip has vague memories of his mother who died when he was a young boy. His father and he were never close, his business consumed his life. Philip never felt a connection with his siblings, being of mixed parentage, he always felt different. He was not accepted by the Chinese or the English so he drifted his own way alone. His studies were important to him and he became fluent multiple languages.
Feeling isolated it is no wonder that Philip becomes the student of Endo-san, a Japanese diplomat living on an island nearby. His lessons are in aikijutsu, but his studies take him far beyond the rudiments of the physical discipline. Endo-san’s teachings are broad and far reaching, Philip learns to trust his teacher, their bond is unique, cohesive and loving. When the Japanese invade Penang, Philip’s loyalty to family and loyalty to his sensei are tested. When the lives of his family are placed in jeopardy, his fateful decision will label him a traitor, but to him a choice he had to make.
I love the character of Philip, his vulnerability, his alienation, his determination, his self discovery and his blind loving trust that he develops with Endo-san. Endo-san, older and much more worldly, has a plan for Philip. He takes advantage of his youth and the takeover of Penang works in his favor. They are on opposing sides and it is war. The trust they share is a precarious place for both.
The Gift of Rain will touch you in its sweet grip and shock you with its brutality. It is a thought provoking look at the lives of those who endured the Japanese occupation of Penang during World War II. A camera lens in text provides a historical look at the culture of the Chinese residents, the Japanese invaders and the British merchants who either stayed or fled. Tan Twan Eng’s beautiful poetic prose is a marvelous melody of emotions. His words should be unhurried, letting them linger, an echo to be heard again. It is easy to see why The Gift of Rain received the Man Booker Prize in 2007. Highly recommended.
Disclosure: Self purchase.
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