Title: Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
Book Beginnings quote:
(Kyoto, Japan. Summer 1950) It came quickly, the pain. It arrived with startling fanfare. Nothing could stop it once it had set on its morbid path.
"Well, yes. Yes, we are. But I'm not...I'm not supposed to be here. She told me that I couldn't talk to you unless you talked to me first and...well...you didn't. And I'm not allowed to leave my room without permission."
Summary: In 1948 Nori's mother drops her off at the home of grandparents she has never met with these words of advice: "Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist." That is the last time Nori sees her mother. In her grandparents' home Nori is confined to her bedroom in the attic unless she is let out to take a bath of acid designed to lighten her skin, skin too dark according to Japanese standards because of her African American father. Her grandparents worry that if anyone knows about Nori's existence it will be a stain on their royal Japanese pedigree. Nori is obedient to a fault. Though lonely she still has an active and curious mind. When her half-brother, Akira, moves onto the estate Nori takes a rare opportunity to speak to him even though it is forbidden. In Akira she finds an ally and a friend. The story spans decades and takes place on several continents. It is a story about human connections and the ties that bind us together and break us apart.
Review: I am torn in half as I analyze Fifty Words For Rain. Half of me was completely swept up in this historical saga of Japan as it emerges from its old empire and the lives that are made or destroyed by it. Yet, I wanted more---the details that would make the setting come alive and the motivations of the characters more understandable. And I also want to love/like at least some of the characters at least most of the time but often the characters, especially Nori, would disappoint. In fact, the ending was maddeningly unexpected and awful. Either the author was setting us up for a sequel or just wanted to shock the readers. Either way, I was unsatisfied.
Fifty Words for Rain is a book club selection and I suspect that we will have a fairly good discussion about the book, especially if one of our members attends. She lived in Japan for a few years and taught Japanese language at the high school level. I'm curious what she will think of the book and how her perspective will help me cope with the bits of the story that I found so distressing. Though not a personal favorite I find myself agreeing with the reviewer from Publisher's Weekly, "Lemmie’s heartbreaking story of familial obligations packs an emotional wallop." I did find myself wiping away tears several times as the story unfolded. 3.5 out of 5 stars.