Tsukiyama’s novel makes history come to life
Aspen Times Weekly
Set in the culture of sumo, Gail Tsukiyama’s “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms” offers a vivid look into the tumultuous period of life in Japan before, during and after World War II. Framed within the lives of two boys ” strong Hiroshi and artistic Kenji ” the storyline depicts the Japanese who endured the obliteration of their world as it was plunged into war.
History comes to life in these pages through the everyday struggles of ordinary people trying to deal with the destruction, hardship and suffering of war. Raised by their grandparents, Hiroshi dreams of becoming a sumo champion, while his younger brother Kenji finds his own passion to become a master maker of Noh masks. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor brings their dreams to a halt as they face hunger, fear, cruelty and the death of friends. As their innocence is lost, though, their experiences sculpt their honor and pride as they become grown men.
The chapters of the novel depicting the war are truly haunting and astonishingly real in their detail, giving the reader a tangible sense of life during those terrifying days. Also adding an air of authenticity to the novel is Tsukiyama’s use of Japanese words, which enhance the flow and texture of the story. In addition to the historical relevance, the subtly and mystique Noh and sumo culture are revealed to the reader.
A cast of interesting secondary characters gives depth to the novel, though everyone seems to fit into a stereotypical mold, making them seem formulaic. But the little vignettes into the lives of these characters evokes the reality of the culture and traditions of the Japanese.
This vivid and realistic tale brings a human element to historical events. Tsukiyama clearly portrays the lingering effects of war, but also the resilience of the people as they heal and rebuild their nation. The themes of strength of family and pride in heritage sustain the story as characters change and grow. The intense detail and enthralling realism of “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms” left me wanting to read other novels by Tsukiyama.
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