115 of 118 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2007
One of the most readable literary titles on this year's unpredictably eclectic Man Booker Longlist. Highly enjoyable and intricate but without being preachy and tedious. The story of a mixed-blood English young man in pre-war Malaya who befriends a Japanese diplomat.
The writing sometimes rises to poetry without being incomprehensible, and the author never forsakes a strong narrative and a taut and gripping plot, which so many Booker-type novels do. There were one or two points in the book which made me a bit impatient, but coming to the end of the book I understood why those parts were necessary.
My wife and I loved it (she cried at some parts of the book) and will recommend it to our reading-circle. Somehow, life looks subtly different after closing the book...
Hope it'll go onto the short list.
138 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2007
The Gift of Rain starts slowly but builds into a gripping, emotionally-disturbing book. The reader is taken through the emotional-growth of the main character, Philip Hutton, as he grapples with his guilt and pain and the choices he had to make when the Japanese attacks Malaya and his home of Penang. At the novel's heart is one of the most unusual stories I have come across. I was drained when I came to the last page, but I felt compelled to read it all over again immediately, this time to savour the lyricism of the writing and descriptions - it was like viewing a Chinese painting come to life.
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2007
An excellent read where the complexities of history and culture come into focus. Set against the contradictions of colonial Malaya and World War II, it looks at how a one country, Japan, can be refined and civilised yet brutal and selfish at the same time. Through the central character it looks at the cultural divide of being from two different cultural backgrounds and not feeling one belongs to either. It introduces a good deal of the Malaysia we see today and will be enjoyed by those who wish to learn more of this country as well as those who know it well. Yet it also taps into the personalities and feelings of the major characters to remind us that history is always about people.
222 of 232 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2007
Once I started reading The Gift of Rain I could not put down. For two days I was lost in the amazing world of the people of Malaya in a sad and terrible time in their history on the island of Penang off the west coast of what is now peninsular Malaysia. After putting the book down, the story haunted me so much that I read it a second time.
Let me say first of all that the Gift of Rain is a great, easy and thoroughly entertaining read from its very beginning when deep in the night an elderly Japanese lady brings a sword to the front door of an elderly man who has been trying for 50 years to come to terms with his terrible past.
Like so many great novels this book refuses to be categorized; it has elements of a historical novel, a coming of age story, a war novel, a treatise on martial arts. Martial arts go to the root of Asian philosophy: Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are all in the book. Predestination versus free will is one of the book's most important themes. The protagonist Philip Hutton's character is shaped by his struggles at a time of war to balance his duty and his loyalty to his father, his family, his country and the enemy in the form of his beloved martial arts teacher, his sensei, Hayato Endo.
The narrative begins as a reflective and beautifully written coming of age story when the sixteen year old, half Chinese boy, Philip Hutton meets the enigmatic Japanese diplomat Endo-san, who becomes his martial arts master and starts him off on an incredibly exciting but unbearably sad voyage of conflict and self discovery.
When the Japanese invade Malaya the tone and style of the book change. The book turns into a fast moving war story. But war destroys and the war has devastating effects on the lives of all the complex main characters.
Tan Twan Eng has an uncanny ability to create atmosphere. He does this partly through an appeal to the reader's senses. And how he succeeds! All the senses are there. Touch, taste and sight. Sound: from the voice of Sutherland to the "mournful wails" of the erhu. Smell; from the smells of food, rooms, clothes, streets, rain, the sea to the fragrance of a lonely tree. For Tan Twan Eng fragrance fuses into a "pungent concoction that (enters) us and (lodges) itself in the memory of the heart".
It has become fashionable for reviewers (and academics) to require of modern works of literature that they move boundaries. Too often this results in writers resorting to all sorts of gimmicks to give the patina of a literary work to their writing. Tan Twan Eng uses no gimmicks. His is simply an exceptionally well written book. But he does move boundaries: he moves the boundaries of our hearts.
A marvelously good book that I thoroughly recommend.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2007
Mr. Twan Eng has written a quite exceptional book although the style of writing is almost old-fashioned. The story line is perfectly paced and the plot is free from clichés. This book is about solitude, the meaning of loyalty, fate, family relationships but mostly about the relationship between two male soulmates who wind up on opposite sides in a world war. It is clear that the protagonist becomes the lover of the Japanese Endo-San who is presented as his ever destined soulmate. This book is first and foremost a love story but Twan Eng's description of this same sex love affair is so subtly protrayed that prejudiced readers (unwilling to accept the fact that two men can fall in love) can easily overlook it and enjoy the book still the same. If anyone is in doubt, thinking that it's just a Platonic friendship, read page 320 where there seems little doubt that Twan Eng is not really describing martial arts fight but in fact Philip and Endo having sex. It's a very tastefully crafted prose. Yet, sometimes I wondered why Twan Eng chooses to disguise the physical nature of this relationship so much sine the unconditional (endless) love Philip holds for Endo is the reason for everything he does and controls the story line.
The only serious shortcoming in this book is that the characterisation is a bit cartoon-like and it's over-emphasis on fate excludes more realistic approach to explore the nature of the relationship between Endo and Philip. The relationship can assumed to be triggered by a typical adoration of a pupil of a master, the pupil, being Philip, feeling left out by his own father and finding a father figure in Endo.
Anyway, this is a beautifully written and gripping story that's well worth reading.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2007
The book starts slowly - too slowly - but that, I realised later, is the beauty of it. The story soon becomes very moving, looking inwards into the memories of an old man and a lifetime of pain and sacrifices and love.
Well worth the time and effort reading and rereading it. The author has captured the aspects of ageing and family and the power of memories beautifully. Colonial Malaya comes alive and western readers are given remarkable insights into one aspect of history which has always been overlooked.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2008
Set against the contradictions of colonial Malaya and World War II, it looks at how a one country, Japan, can be refined and civilised yet brutal and selfish at the same time. Through the central character it looks at the cultural divide of being from two different cultural backgrounds and not feeling one belongs to either. It introduces a good deal of the Malaysia we see today and will be enjoyed by those who wish to learn more of this country as well as those who know it well. Yet it also taps into the personalities and feelings of the major characters to remind us that history is always about people. If you're looking for another great read try The Fates by Tino Georgiou.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2007
Having read the reviews below and having followed the Booker nominations, I read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like some of the other reviewers, and having read some of the other so-called novels on the shortlist (you know who!), I felt that this book was unfairly left out of the shortlist.
The book raises many questions that we have all asked ourselves at one time or another - how far are we willing to go in order to protect those we love, and how much are we able to give up so that someone else may be saved. I enjoyed the deceptively effortless and sublime writing with its poetic descriptions, which never prevented this book from being a surprising page-turner.
There are some flaws to the book, but in the end, it's not those that a reader remembers, but rather, it's the flaws of the characters which will remain with us, and endear them to us.
You won't regret reading this book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2008
The gift of rain succeeds very well in recreating the atmosphere of Penang just before and also during WW2 and the Japanese occupation. It tells the story of young Philip Hutton, half English and half Chinese, who feels at odds with his family as he thinks he doesn't belong to either community.It is also the story of the consuming relationship he builds with his Japanese sensei Endo san and the complex emotions he has to go through as love,faith and admiration have to battle distrust and bitterness and a powerful sense of betrayal when the Japanese finally become the new masters of the island. Philip's life is rendered even more difficult when he decides to collaborate with the invading forces so as to protect his family. A traitor for them and for all the people who knew him when he grew up, he hides the fact that he also betrays his new masters and tries to save lives whenever he can.
The author really succeeded in drawing the different communities and his portrayal of the emotional turmoil of the protagonists doesn't fail to interest and move. It is therefore a pity that the novel has flaws. One of these is that less care has been taken in writing about Philip's English family whose members (apart from his father)seem two dimensional caricatures of real people.Another one is that since, right at the beginning of the book we know that Philip aged 70 or thereabouts is alone in the world, having lost all his family during the war, the writer then has to 'bump ' them all off, (none can be saved)and doesn't always manage to do it creditably (I mean in particular the death of his sister and mostly his father's). How can we believe that while Philip's secret partisan activities have finally been discovered and that he has been branded a traitor and condemned to die, his sensei, however well placed in the Japanese hierarchy, can save his life? ' I can only save one of you, you or your father, and your father wants you to live',this is more or less the content of Endo san 's speech.Highly improbable! As for Philip's only friend's death,here we go again and we are asked to suspend our powers of disbelieving way beyond the reasonable.Kon has been a guerilla fighting the enemy with great success and how does he meet his end? Is he killed by his enemies? No! He is shot at by a female comrade and former lover who 'hasn't been the same since she had to abort the baby she carried'What a logical explanation for shooting the best hope you have of defeating your worst nightmare, namely the Japanese invaders.
It is a great pity that those examples of bad melodrama somewhat detract from the otherwise very good impression the book left.They are however only moments in a long and mostly interesting journey and shouldn't make you feel the book isn't worth reading because it is.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 19 November 2007
This book's just come out in Australia. I found it to be a book to cherish. My father was in Malaya when the Japanese invaded and he barely made it out alive. Reading this book made me relive the things he used to tell us. It's a breathtaking, unbearably sad novel but so full of insight, humanity and love. I've bought many copies for my friends and loved ones and colleagues. Buy it and read it - you will not be sorry you did.