Book Club: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

After pushing this book club meeting back a month because of a busy part of the semester for most of us, we found we were still pretty lukewarm about this novel by Isabel Allende. The focus in the beginning of the narrative was on Irina which we later discover is not the main character. Seemingly random encounters are overly detailed and do not pertain to the story whatsoever. Additionally, there were numerous characters to keep track of that whilst our book club meeting, we were mixing up names and story-lines.

On the other hand, a theme that stood out to me as significant was the fear of aging. After finishing this book, I was talking to a friend about how at some point in the future, assisted suicide would be normalized – which could be competing with active seniors communities as that seems like the end of the road for some. As I have passed the quarter-life crisis (or on the tail-end of it), I have been re-evaluating choices and am curious to see as I grow older will I have regrets of the life I lived and the choices I made? We see Alma reminiscing and in denial about moving from one part of the retirement community to the assisted living, where it is inevitably the beginning of the end in her mind.

We also see what sacrifice looks like and yet each person still gets what they want in the end, so more like a compromise as it comes to Alma & Ichi and Nathaniel & Lenny. There are different kinds of love being reflected: cousin familial protective love, interracial lovers, and the love between two men – all within an interesting period in U.S. history. Usually, when stories we read as a book club involves families and relationships, we are typically engaged in more thought-provoking dialogue. Somehow, this one missed that mark.

A few quotations that stuck out to me:

“Childhood is a naturally unhappy period of our existence…It was Walt Disney who invented the notion that it has to be happy, simply to make money” (Allende 44)

“Because I have time to spare, and for the first time in my life nobody expects anything of me. I don’t have to prove anything, I’m not rushing everywhere; each day is a gift I enjoy to the fullest” (Allende 60)

“IT’s the most fragile and difficult stage of life, more so than childhood, because it grows worse day by day, and there is no future other than death” (Allende 174).

Here’s to our next book club selection, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch! Enjoy the spring weather 🙂

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