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The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
by Gail Tsukiyama

Orphaned when an accident takes the lives of both their parents, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto are raised by their grandparents. Each boy has a goal: Hiroshi wants to become a sumo champion while his brother Kenji longs to master the art of making masks for the Noh theater. Their training is interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and for years the family struggles to feed itself. When the war finally ends, each boy is able to resume his dream, but even as they find success in post-war Japan their personal lives are plagued with loss and sorrow.

If you ever wanted to learn about sumo wrestling the early to mid-20th century, here's your opportunity. The author, Gail Tsukiyama, describes sumo matches and the accompanying traditional ceremonies in great detail. It was both interesting and overwhelming; at times so much information was presented that the various matches would blend together. I really appreciated the contrast Tsukiyama created between daily life before, during and after the war. The deprivation that was forced on the Japanese by their government and fellow citizens, and the impact it had on the years of the American occupation, is a story that deserves to be told.

On the other hand, it's a little distracting to have random Japanese words peppered into the narrative. I understand that for highly specialized terms used in sumo or Noh theater, there may not be an English equivalent, but if you're writing a book in English there is no strong reason for replacing “Hello” and “Thank you” with “Konnichiwa” and “Arigato”. It doesn't help to create atmosphere, and I can't think of any other reasons to deploy it.

I wish there had been something about the characters that captured me, but for the most part they were very flat and predictable. With the exception of the two grandparents, Yoshio and Fumiko, who have a wonderful relationship and amazing resourcefulness, very little character development occurs. Hiroshi the boy and Hiroshi the man are not all that different. The story also suffers from endless tragedies; deaths of family members and children happen so frequently, even in the post-war years, that they lose meaning.

All in all, a decidedly mediocre novel.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
2011: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
2010: Dr. Horrible by Zach Whedon + others
2009: Hannah (Daughters of the Sea #1) by Kathryn Lasky
2008: RuneWarriors by James Jennewein and Tom S. Parker


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