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'The Japanese Lover' by Isabel Allende: EW review

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The Japanese Lover: A Novel

Current Status:
In Season
Isabel Allende
Atria Books

We gave it a B-

Allende’s latest, which has a decades-spanning secret affair at its heart, hits all kinds of hot-button topics—incest, child abuse, abortion, interracial relationships. But it is at its most successful when delving into a disgraceful moment in American history after Pearl Harbor, when thousands of Japanese-Americans were unconstitutionally sequestered in internment camps. This serves as a narrative roadblock to a burgeoning love: A young Polish refugee lands with wealthy relatives in San Francisco and befriends the Japanese son of her family’s gardener; the two are inseparable until he is imprisoned. A few tone-deaf moments and underwhelming twists aside, Allende is a gifted writer, and the pages fly by; she relays atrocities and love scenes in the same straightforward fashion, and her tale has greater impact because of it. Character and plot are fairly thin, though, making it hard to become emotionally invested. Lover sheds light on some dark corners but doesn’t quite live up to its promise. B–