Book review

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende book review

The Japanese LoverThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

My rating: 1 of 5 stars ★
Genre: Historical, Romance
Source: Purchased, Book of the Month Club book box

In the first explosive years of WWII, Alma’s family sends her away from Poland to San Francisco. As she settles into a new life with her aunt and uncle, she meets Ichimei, the son of their Japanese gardener. Ichimei is sweet and gentle and they fall in love quickly. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ichimei and his family are sent away to internment camps.

Fast forward a few decades: Alma is living in a care facility. She is still very physically active, but she needs help in some ways. Enter Irina, who is an immigrant who finds comfort from her own very troubled past by listening to Alma’s life story.

There’s a common formula used in historical fiction. If you’ve read much, I would bet you’re familiar with it: A damaged, fragile young woman with a dark past meets a wise elderly woman who lived through an interesting historical event. The old woman slowly reveals her story to the young woman, who is able to “find” herself in the process and heal from past wounds.

It’s a tired formula, but I forgive it if the story is interesting enough.

But this book dwells almost entirely in the present. The fact that one of the characters lived in an American Japanese internment camp is of little importance. And I thought I was reading historical fiction here…

There were so many parts of this book were annoying or just didn’t make sense.

For example… Skip this paragraph to avoid a spoiler: Let’s say you get pregnant and your Baby Daddy is Asian. You decide to marry a tall, blonde, Scandinavian-looking man and pretend that this guy is the father and it’s so sweet because Blonde Guy is going to tell everyone that he made this baby with you. Because no one will notice that your baby is bi-racial. …Huh?

But more than anything, this book felt like an outlet for the author to preach about her political stances. It was as if she thought, “I am going to fit as many controversial topics and my opinions on them into one book as I can!” The majority of these topics are discussed extensively, not just mentioned here and there. These include, but are not limited to:

-Religion and God
-Marijuana use
-Assisted suicide
-Service work in the community
-Democrats vs. Republicans
-Child pornography
-Interracial marriages
-Immigration, both legal and illegal

Whether I agree with her politics or not is not relevant. It was the constant barrage of opinions that made me do some Liz Lemon-worthy eye rolls.

For example…


“She appeared so self-assured that she did not look for support either from God or in the sickly-sweet religiosity of some of the . . . residents, who flaunted their spirituality and went around preaching ways of reaching a higher state of awareness. Alma had her feet firmly on the ground (21).”


“There were 244 disillusioned Democrats who had voted to reelect Barack Obama but criticized him for being indecisive, for not having closed the Guantanamo facility, for deporting Latino immigrants, for the use of drones . . . The half-dozen Republicans were careful not to voice their opinions out loud (65).”

Oh, were you expecting a book of historical fiction, specifically dealing with the internment of Japanese-Americans? Yeah, me too.


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6 thoughts on “The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende book review

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