Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn

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Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This story concentrates on Japan in the mid 19th century as it starts to see big changes in relation to the rest of the world. A young girl tells her story: of life and love and also of her dreams of becoming a doctor in her native Japan.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 400 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857382979

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I see from the front cover that Hearn is already a best-selling author with her Tales Of the Otori so I was looking forward to a good read. However, I did slump a little when I opened the book and was presented with several pages of the story's characters - sub-divided into fictional and historical.

The story is told by a young Japanese girl Tsuru who is the main character. The book opens with her sister's wedding celebrations. So, plenty of scope to give readers a flavour of all things Japanese. And Hearn certainly makes the most of the opportunity as we learn about the food eaten on special occasions and the clothes worn, for example. An interesting piece of information was that a geisha not only came along to the wedding as a bona fide guest but she was treated with affection and even respect by the family.

We go into the background of quite a few of the characters at an early stage and yes, it could be a little confusing to remember who's who. But I decided not to bother to keep flicking back and forth as it would annoy me and stop me from getting into the flow. I remembered most of them. Having said that, I was starting to enjoy the story and a country I'm not familiar with. As early on as page 6 - war, foreigners and China were all mentioned.

Hearn's style and choice of words, especially descriptive words is apt. Lines such as My tears fell like rain and similar are numerous. Initially it lends a nice, Japanese feel but then I thought she over-played it somewhat and the effect for me, was diluted. Could also be a little sugary-sweet at times. Tsuru is an ambitious and forward-thinking girl. She wants to study medicine rather than take the normal route of marriage and babies. Not only that, but Japanese girls are expected to be seen and not heard within the domestic household, so it looks as if it's going to be a difficult couple of years for Tsuru. How will she cope?

But she has a get-out clause. Her father is a respected local doctor and he allows his daughter to assist him. She's a natural and gives off a professional air for one so young. She's fortunate as Medicine was still the domain of men and owing to the extreme modesty of some female patients, it was deemed more appropriate that Tsuru deal with them rather than her father. And of course all medicine at that time was herbal. And as the novel progresses so too does the unorthodox career path of Tsuru. Busy as she is, she even finds time for a spot of romance but it's clear that her passion is reserved for the medical profession.

But then the book took a big dip in terms of enjoyment for me. Hearn introduces a lot of historical data. Allowing for the fact that this is an historical novel, it's still a heck of a lot - especially for a work of fiction. It's as if she has all this knowledge and information and she's determined to share it with her readers. I really wished that in this section of the book that I was reading a work of non-fiction on Japanese history. I also felt that at times I was reading an essay as it was so dense on the page. Page after page after page, I'm afraid. There was very little let up. Very little light and shade. It could have done with perhaps more dialogue as a means of variety. To be frank, I was relieved to get to the end of the book. After a good and promising start, the novel went slowly downhill for me.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try One Morning Like A Bird by Andrew Miller.

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