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Takehito Miyatake photo of hime botaru (princess fireflies)

Photo of hime botaru by Takehito Miyatake.

“I did love your mother, you know, he said. People thought I had gone native, the way so many do. But they didn’t understand what she and I felt for each other.” …

“We would row downstream, and she would lie in my arms, and we would wait in our boat for the fireflies to appear in the trees along the riverbank. There were thousands of them, lighting the darkness for us, showing us the way.” …

“A few weeks after we were married, I came home late one night. The house was dark. I ran inside, convinced something terrible had happened.” ….

“She had let the mosquito netting drop over the bed, covering it completely. And in the darkness, between the creases of the net were hundreds of fireflies she had collected from the river.”…

“We spent the night beneath a shower of light. That was the night you were conceived.”

Philip Hutton is a half-breed of two influential families in Malaysia. His father, Noel, is the scion of one of England’s powerful trading families. His mother, Noel’s second wife, dishonored her influential Chinese family by marrying outside of her race. Like Philip she is an outcast. He is taken under the wing of his father’s Japanese diplomat tenant, Hayato Endo (Endo-san), who becomes his sensei in aikijutsu.

This is a World War II novel about family, honor and prejudice born of race and history. The Japanese occupation of Malaysia is principally told from the British, Chinese and Japanese perspectives. There is only passing reference to fleeting support by the Malays for Japanese ouster of the colonial British. This limitation does not detract from the novel, which is a proverbial page-turner.

The Gift of Rain was Malaysian native Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel. It garnered a nomination for the Man Booker Prize. The author sprinkles cultural references throughout this epic novel. Having a first-dan ranking in aikido, the author educates the reader about this style of martial arts. “The Garden of Evening Mists”, Tan’s second novel, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It too is set in Malaysia during the Japanese occupation.

There is a ying-yan to “collaborate”. In a positive sense it is encourages working together to produce or to create something. In a negative sense, it is cooperate traitorously with the enemy. Tan avoids the latter simple view. It is shaded by the life of half-breeds and by conflicting goals. In this sense, collaborate means to compromise. This does not diminish, nor excuse, the brutality of the product. For Endo-san and Philip, family and honor constrain choices, with fatalism and free will being the operative cultural debate between them. Each are emotionally scarred as the middle ground is the hard choice between extremes.

Both of Tan’s books are published by the indie press Weinstein Books ( http://www.weinsteinbooks.com) . It is a partnership between The Weinstein Company and The Perseus Books Group (http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com), which publishes The Economist and other non-fiction imprints. The Weinstein Company is a multimedia and distribution company that was launched by the Weinstein brothers who founded Miramax Films. There is commercial value to this book, as it could readily be turned into a film or cable series, as Herman Wouk did with “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” with TV. James Clavell’s Asian series books have the same feel, although based in part on Jardines in an earlier historical period of Hong Kong and Japan.

You will enjoy reading this book.