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Plum Wine Paperback – March 27, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (March 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385340834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385340830
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As this enthralling novel opens, Barbara Jefferson, teaching English in Japan in 1966, receives a bequest from her Japanese fellow teacher and mentor, Michiko Nakamoto, a Hiroshima survivor who has just died of cancer. Barbara's superiors arrive at her apartment bearing Michi-San's gorgeous tansu chest, filled with bottles of homemade plum wine dated by year. After a short, perfectly rendered struggle with the elder Japanese teachers over the possession of the wine, Barbara discovers that the rice paper wrappings of each bottle contain a portion of the story of Michiko's life. Barbara's path through the texts, which she cannot translate herself, forms the rest of the novel. As Barbara delves into Michi-San's life and loves, an odd triangle forms between Barbara, Michiko and Michiko's childhood friend Seiji, a man who is between the two women in age, and who translates some texts. Author of Felice and Forms of Shelter, Davis-Gardner handles the Japanese mores of the time expertly, and the dialogue spoken by non-native English speakers is pitch perfect. She quietly wows with this third novel, which features a wonderfully inventive plot and a protagonist as self-possessed as she is sensitive. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Seiji, a potter, tells Barbara, a young and lonely American teaching at a Tokyo university, that it is a tradition in Japan to write about the year past as the new year begins. This practice was cherished by Michiko, a professor who befriended Barbara, and by Michiko's mother before her, as Barbara discovers after Michiko's sudden death and surprise bequest to Barbara of a wooden chest containing bottles of plum wine, one for each year from 1939 to 1966, the present, each wrapped in paper covered with writing. Unable to read Japanese, Barbara asks Seiji to translate the papers, unaware that he and Michiko are hibakusha, Hiroshima survivors. As she and Seiji embark on a painfully complicated love affair, Barbara struggles to understand the horror of what Michiko and Seiji suffered at the hands of her countrymen while her students question her about America's escalation of the war in Vietnam. Davis-Gardner's exceptionally sensitive and enveloping novel illuminates with quiet intensity, psychological suspense, and narrative grace the obdurate divide between cultures, the collision between love and war, and, most piercingly, the horrific legacy of Hiroshima. But Davis-Gardner's ravishing tale also celebrates the solace of stories, and the transcendent bonds people form under the cruelest of circumstances. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

It is beautifully written, with wonderful imagery.
LizS
This exceptionally well told story allows us to feel the numbing sadness that blankets the lives of survivors of the American bombing of Hiroshima.
Cook and Baker
The female main character just got downright annoying toward the end.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Cook and Baker on March 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The horrors of war continue to be repeated from generation to generation. This exceptionally well told story allows us to feel the numbing sadness that blankets the lives of survivors of the American bombing of Hiroshima. The descriptions of the bombing itself, however, almost pale beside the agonies that follow as survivors live out their lives haunted by what they have endured, shamed by the fact of their survival, and tortured by their efforts to somehow fulfill their obligation to honor those who have been lost. Angela Davis-Gardner combines the beauty of a love story with the pain the each character endures, not only relating to Hiroshima, but also to other losses and disappointments of life.

Barbara comes to Japan on a personal journey in search of the essence of her mother, during the height of the Vietnam War. The juxtaposition of World War II and the American involvement in Vietnam provides a brilliant setting for Davis-Gardner's examination of truth, honor, morality, love, and pain. Her characters are memorable and the questions she raises,sadly, continue to be highly relevant, and worthy of our contemplation. An amazing, thought-provoking, beautiful read.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By BWB on April 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Davis-Gardner may have pulled off this year's most entertaining book with the greatest number of irons in the fire--history, culture, literature and all that, but what keeps the pages turning is a good old-fashioned mystery, a morality play of trust and betrayal, of guilt and shame and secrets, a clash of civilizations and, yeah, even I got caught up in the romance (which was steamy as a Japanese bathhouse...) I started it sort of thinking, "Here we go, another Japan book," but found I was learning all kinds of new things from different, unwritten-about perspectives. I read it in two sittings. Couldn't put it down. What a gem--I hope a major house picks up the paperback so it can get the notice it deserves.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By E. Lacey on February 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a gorgeous, infectious novel that is impossible to put down. Absolutely one of the best books I've read recently.

The story follows young Barbara Jefferson, an American teaching in Japan in 1966. Michiko Nakamoto, her mentor at the university, dies and leaves Barbara a tansu chest filled with bottles of homemade plum wine, each dated with a year. Barbara finds that the chest contains a host of secrets and mysteries. She struggles to unravel the threads of Michiko's life story.

Barbara's tale is utterly compelling. First of all, the author's writing style is so lush and lovely that it gives the whole novel something of a dream-like atmosphere. Barbara comes to understand and respect Japanese culture, falls in love and discovers the horrors of Hiroshima. It's a wonderful tale that you won't soon forget. Highly recommended.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Edie Sousa on August 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
I admired the author's intent here--I'd not read a story dealing with Hiroshima (other than John Hersey in high school), and it did provide food for thought. That said, several things annoyed me about the book, and the reading was made less pleasurable because of that. Like other readers, I found the characterization weak. Seiji was totally unsympathetic and unattractive in my opinion--can't imagine what she saw in him. But then I wasn't that crazy about her either--she seemed like a weak vessel for telling the story. Ultimately I didn't really care about either Barbara or Seiji.

Another things that drove me nuts was the frequent use of Japanese phrases and no hint of what they might mean. Often in historical fiction that involves a language other than English, authors thoughtfully provide brief phrase glossaries. Then the reader can actually learn something. In this book, the phrases sounded like the author wanted to impress us with her knowledge of Japanese. Well, good for her, but I need a translation.

So, a good attempt at an interesting story, but it seemed to only scratch the surface.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Carol L. Park on April 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
I throughly enjoyed this book. Since I lived six years in Japan (from 1993-99) while immersing myself in the culture, I was delighted to see the accuracy of Angela's DAvis-Gardner portrayal Japanese way of thinking and relationships. The story caught me up in its suspense as I read on to discover where Barbara was going to find intimacy and how she'd manage these strange cross-cultural relationships, and what the writing on these plum wine bottles revealed. Descriptive language in this novel was beautiful and some passages brought an amused smile to my lips.

I was astonished by the range of reviews by others. Several talked about how they couldn't understand how Barbara could be attracted to Seiji. Some found both characters unsympathetic or shallow. I don't find fault with these characters but with others reading and understanding of these two protagonists.

I think critics who are harsh on these characterizations haven't lived alone in a foreign land and felt the keen loneliness inherent in that situation, especially in a land where the ideal of men and the values they lives by (work has priority over relationships, relationship with mother has priority over spouse) are so different than western values.

Both Barbara and Seiji were sympathetic characters for me because I understood and felt their dilemmas and could see the cross-cultural issues at play. I could understand how Barbara would waver between going along with Seiji's ways and trying to change him to American romantic ideals.

I thank Angela for a compelling read that enlightened me to the shame and sadness experienced by survivors of Hiroshima.
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