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The Gift of Rain: A Novel Hardcover – May 1, 2008
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Philip first meets the enigmatic Endo, a Japanese diplomat who is leasing a small island from Phillip's father, in 1939. Half-British, half-Chinese Philip is a loner and a misfit, and finds himself drawn into a relationship with Endo, who takes him on as his student and teaches him aikido-jitsu - a martial art still in its infancy, as well as the Japanese language and culture. As the clouds of war grow increasingly ominous, it is clear that Endo is training Phillip in skills which will eventually save his life. But is Endo all that he appears to be, and should Phillip be prepared to trust him? Once the Japanese invade, Philip is forced to make the most difficult decisions about where his loyalties must lie.
There is a tremendous amount of historical fact and, of course, as in any Malaysian novel aimed at an international readership, a great deal of information on the complex social background of the country. What is quite amazing is that despite this the pace of the story never becomes bogged down by a heavy load of background detail. Indeed where the novel succeeds best is in the strong drive of the narrative, and in the painstaking recreation of the setting.
Penang of the thirties and forties is brought to life so well that you feel that you could almost be reading a contemporary account.Read more ›
It's one of those rare examples of a deeply satisfying novel that leaves nothing to be desired.
Set during WWII-era, the novel stars Philip Hutton, the half-Chinese son of a wealthy English trader living in Penang, Malaysia.
Philip's mixed blood causes him not to be fully accepted by either the Chinese or the English, leaving him unsure of his place in the world.
Then, one day, he meets a visiting Japanese official, Endo-san, who takes him on as a pupil to teach him the secrets of aikido along with the underlying 'way of life'.
Endo's motives are not completely disinterested, though: with the Japanese preparing to invade Malaysia, Endo can get a lot of information out a young boy so familiar with the island grounds.
When the Japanese ultimately occupy Penang, Philip must make a choice: he can betray his people, by siding with the Japanese, or fight against the latter. Caught between two fires, Philips opts for a compromise of some sort: he becomes the aide of Endo (a high-ranking official of the invading forces) but uses his influence to soften the effects of the domination.
Nothing is really black-or-white in the way Philip or Endo-san behave. Just like in real life, characters are torn between feelings of love and duty, between fear and vengeance.
Endo-san relationships with Philip lives in this space and is very cleverly constructed.
If the setting alone (I gather most western reader won't be overly familiar with Japan role during WWII, aside from the main events we all know about) doesn't draw you in, the engaging narrative will do, coupled with evocative passages that offer dreamlike depictions of the lush Malay landscapes.
On another level, the book explores the morality of choices one makes in life and the impact that has on current and future times in the lives of the main characters. The concepts of fate, destiny and choice, in the context of one's culture underlie the story. An extension of that is the impact different cultural values have when differing cultures collide.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book as it is a well-written and intriguing tale which made me think about what I had read each time I put the book down. It also made me reflect on the choices I might have made if I were in any of the main characters' position. Finally, i enjoyed the WWII historical background.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have read both of Mr Tan Twang Eng's books and look forward to his future writings. The gift of rain is a well researched, compelling, and engaging story. Read morePublished 11 hours ago by Carlos
His writing is incredible--astonishing verbs and metaphors. This writer deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature, and this novel was short listed
for a Man Booker Prize. Read more
Tan Twan Eng conveys the history of Malaysia to me in a way that is so personal, and his stories always ring true. Most other authors seem trite by comparison.Published 2 days ago by Paige
This is one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. Well written and absolutely engrossing. Read morePublished 7 days ago by patc
Beautifully written by a very sensitive author. Really didn't want it to end. As sad and hopeful as life itself. A fine balance between hope despair and grace. Read morePublished 8 days ago by Bruce Judah
Very interesting story about a little-known part of the world - the Malayan Peninsula - during the turbulent years around World War II.Published 11 days ago by Elaine Phillips
I'm looking now for a read as significant as this novel. Rich with history that I knew very little of, and a culture that I barely knew especially in that time period. Wonderful.Published 12 days ago by Connie