In 1939, on the Asian island of Penang, the lonely, half-Chinese son of a British merchant bonds with a Japanese diplomat, and gets an education in martial arts and meditation in the bargain. Though a graceful prose stylist, Tan Twan Eng relays his war story — this is 1939, after all — in painstaking and pain-inducing detail. Getting to his evocative descriptions of temples and local customs involves trudging through a slow-paced spy plot, a heap of superfluous dialogue, and dinner scenes that read like restaurant reviews (”The banana leaf imparted a hint of green, raw flavor…”). The Gift of Rain requires a Zen master?s patience. B-