Published: March 15, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Historical Fiction (12th Century Japan)
You might enjoy this book if you like: Japanese History, Novels about sisters, Family stories, the books of Amy Tan
Rachel and Drew Snow might be sisters, but their lives have followed completely different paths. Rachel is happily married but hasn’t returned to her childhood home since her strict father kicked her out after an act of careless teenage rebellion. Drew, her younger sister, pursued a passion for music but longs for the stability that has always eluded her.
But when their deferential Japanese mother, Hikari, is diagnosed with dementia, the sisters come together to locate a particular book she asks for in a rare moment of lucidity. The book—an epic saga of female samurai in twelfth-century Japan—reveals truths about Drew and Rachel’s relationship that ends up connecting them in ways that turn their differences into assets.
This was one of those books I went into with a very clear feeling that I wouldn't like it. Novels about sisters don't always work for me and, when they don't they really don't work. I was afraid that the mother/daughter relationship would fall into the cliche trap. And, finally, historical fiction about Japan just isn't my favorite.
Luckily, my fears were unfounded. I enjoyed this book more than I did and any quibbles I had were minor ones.
The sister relationship here works well and Dilloway takes a unique approach to it. In so many books about estranged sisters, it comes down to what one sister did to the other or a misunderstanding between the sisters. Here, the strife is a by-product of the sisters' relationship with their mother and father, separately. There are several points in the book where we see the same memory through each sister's eyes, which I think lends a new depth to the parental relationships.
I liked both Rachel and Drew, but I related more to Rachel and, as a result, was a bit more interested in her story. I enjoyed seeing Rachel as both the child and the parent. However, one of my nitpicks about this book is that her relationships to her two children is a bit much. Her subplots with Quincy, her daughter, and Chase, her son, seemed redundant to me. I think that Dilloway could have achieved the same result by only including one of those stories.
I found the girls' relationships with their parents fascinating. Rachel is clearly still trying to work through her relationship with her father. Drew, however, cuts right to the chase...the guys is a sociopath..and instead tries to decipher her relationship with her mother. Hikari's role in the lives of both Rachel and Drew reminded me a great deal of the works of Amy Tan. Yes, I know Amy Tan in Chinese-American and these characters are Japanese-American (and those are two different things), but I found the dynamics to be similar.
The historical section of the book, which is really just a plot device for the contemporary plot is fine, but I wasn't overly taken by it. I'm sure that Dilloway could have told Rachel and Drew's story without it, but it did fit in nicely with the overall narrative. Then again, I did say that Japanese history wasn't really one of my interests and I think someone who was more into it would find that part of the book more effective.
All in all, it was a fun read and one I would widely recommend.
I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.