112. ‘Blossoms and Shadows’ by Lian Hearn.

I’ve strayed away from your books recently, Mum, and been reading books I’ve purchased in charity shops when I’ve been out op-shopping for BeckyandVince. This was one of them – many, many years ago, Fourth Son recommended a trilogy by this author. I only remember the title ‘The Nightingale Floor’, but it was a good read which is why when I saw this on the Salvation Army shelves, I grabbed it.

Deep regret really. I think I was also influenced by having last month read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘Pachinko’; I reviewed it and gifted it forward recently. This factually based novel set during the mid 1800’s when Japan was in turmoil tried really hard to combine actual historical events with the personal experience of a fictional Japanese woman trying to break the mould and work as a doctor, and just lost me somewhere in the midst of both stories. I’d qualify by saying that as a woman I totally get the central character’s desire to have the freedom a man enjoyed in mid 19th century Japan, and could hope and almost believe she got away with it…but not quite.

I’ve never been to Japan – China and Korea, but not Japan, and I must admit I’d very much like to. Such a completely unique and alien culture to we Westerners, mainly thanks to them keeping us out successfully for so long. That’s one thing this book clearly illustrates – the desire of the Japanese after so many years of isolationism to have access to the novel technology of the West without being overwhelmed by it. In the time period within which this book is set, the British have destroyed the Summer Palace just outside Beijing during the Opium Wars for which although I’m British, I cannot forgive them – even the remains are spectacular, the intact palace must have been incredible. And there was no justification other than commercial ambition for the Opium Wars either.

I visited No. 2 Son while he was working in Beijing several times, and spent a spectacularly hot summer day there walking around the large ornamental lake in the gardens of the Summer Palace, from which a canal leads in to the Forbidden City and I offer two outstanding memories to share with you.

One was four or five (ornamental and each one unique and beautiful) bridges in around the lake and recognising that I was at the point of no return, sitting for a much needed rest on a seat beneath a beautiful spreading shady tree and being immediately approached by a smiling Chinese gentleman offering me a whole cucumber, in fact vigorously waving said cucumber before me. The initial shock subsided when I finally understood it was for me to eat and ‘cool my blood’. There was a ‘payment’ involved – I assume (because I don’t have a copy), that I feature prominently somewhere in a family photo of the gentleman’s grandmother, wizened, tiny and a bit confused and her assembled family, around forty or fifty of them, with me in the middle smiling and holding my cucumber aloft. It used to happen a lot, being asked for a photo with one by total strangers!

The second was much more pricey. The public loo’s in Beijing when I was there were always really clean but the ones at the Summer Palace were still ‘drop bogs’ and I managed to drop my prescription RayBans into one of them. I found a stick and had a (gagging) good shot at hooking them up but in the end it was my hand in that hole or lose the glasses. You KNOW which I chose!

So back to this book; no. Don’t rush out looking for it, but don’t dismiss her as an author based on this either. Here, I think she was simply trying to tick too many boxes. Look for the trilogy including ‘The Nightingale Floor’ though. That’s well worth a read. And I will gift this one forward – it’s not awful, just not as good as it could have been.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, your books and I are on the move again, hopefully for the last time in a few years. We’ve been house sitting for a couple of months but that’s coming to an end next month and Vince the Small Black Dog and I are hoping to find a little place to call home close to Youngest Daughter and The Grandchild so, if by some serendipitous twist of fate you or someone you know is looking for a great tenant between the Sunshine Coast and Caboolture, feel free to sing out!

Becky X