I hadn't read too many chapters of Gail Tsukiyama's beautiful and fascinating novel about a Japanese family before, during and after World War II when I began to wonder how I had missed her five previous novels. Tsukiyama is a lovely storyteller; in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms she handles multiple perspectives with ease, and she quickly makes the reader part of the world she has created.
Hiroshi and Kenji live with their maternal grandparents on the Street of a Thousand Blossoms in Tokyo. Hiroshi was three and Kenji only 18 months old when their parents drowned in a boating accident, a story their grandmother regularly recounts to Hiroshi, her voice rising and falling like waves, lapping slowly to the shore almost in a whisper as she came to the end. Kenji, though, cannot stand to listen. Despite their loss the boys have a happy and secure life. Their grandfather is a dreamer who built a watchtower onto his house to observe the life around us ; he and his wife have a loving marriage. Hiroshi, like his grandfather, is a great fan of sumo wrestling and has the talent to be one.
Kenji, a sensitive boy, finds a feeling of endless possibilities as he observes craftsmen at work, and eventually apprentices with a master Noh mask-maker.
As Hiroshi and Kenji forge ahead in their chosen careers, they give readers glimpses into special areas of Japanese culture. The novel spans 27 years and has an epic feel. There are many individual losses, most of them foreshadowed with a sense of inevitability which makes them no less sad or moving but keeps the reader from feeling pummeled by their number. The only real quibble is that Tsukiyama's skilled writing leaves the reader wanting more especially when it comes to her depictions of pre-war Japan. Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C.