Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Gail Tsukiyama’s “Street of Thousand Blossoms” delves deep into the lives of two brothers – Hiroshi and Kenji, who live in Tokyo.

Hiroshi and Kenji’s lives were touched by separation and sorrow even before the World War started. They lost their parents in a boating accident when they were very young and were now living with their old but loving grandparents. They have happy and content childhoods with dreams and aspirations. Hiroshi, always the protector of the family, aspires to become a successful sumo wrestler and his dedication and skill catches the eye of the most prestigious trainer - Tanaka. The shy and silent Kenji is fascinated by the masks he sees in a shop window and gravitates towards the art of mask making and Akira Yoshiwara, a famous mask maker for the Noh Theater. Kenji starts working for Akira as his apprentice in his mask shop. Unexpectedly, World War II interrupts their near-perfect lives and for the next few years, all that the boys and their grandparents can think of is surviving with what little they manage to have.

At the end of World War II, when Japan struggles to rebuild itself, Hiroshi and Kenji make a heroic attempt to redeem their childhood dreams and actually succeed in their attempt. The book is more than just about their professions, of course. You are drawn into the personal and professional struggles of both brothers and without realizing it, you smile at their joys and successes and cry with them at their losses and failures.

The book is an absolute joy to read. Tsukiyama gives us a good view of Japan’s two prized gems – Sumo Wrestling and the Noh Theater. We learn about the daily rituals and the lives of Sumo wrestlers in Japan. Until I read the book, I didn’t care much for Sumo wrestling. To me, it was just two fat men in their underwear trying to push each other out a teeny tiny circle. But as I read the book, I learnt to appreciate the dedication, the skill and the strength that is associated with Sumo wrestling. I started seeing it for the art it is. I actually started liking Japan’s most loved sport. The Noh masks are at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is a small, intricately carved mask where the face changes expression based on which angle you look at it. Thanks to google I found many videos and articles on both Sumo wrestling and the Noh Theater to satisfy my craving for more knowledge once I was done reading the book.

Both Hiroshi and Kenji are endearing and lovable in their own ways and the love and respect they have for each other is enviable. I enjoyed the way Tsukiyama seamlessly weaved the world war II and its after effects into the lives of Hiroshi and Kenji while describing their professional and personal lives completely.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I would definitely recommend it to everyone. It is a very enjoyable read and it has only one short coming – it is very addictive. There’s no way you are putting it down until you’ve turned the last page.

Have you already read this book? Did you enjoy it as much as I did??