Customer Review

60 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profound and meaningful book, 4 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Gift of Rain (Paperback)
The Gift of Rain is a difficult book.

I come from a very Western background, and perhaps this is what makes the novel so difficult. In The Gift of Rain, we see a story of Philip Hutton, a child (becoming a young man) of mixed Chinese-English heritage growing up in a wealthy business family in Penang, Malaysia in the 1930s and 1940s. He is taken under the tutelage of Endo-san, a Japanese tenant of Philip's father.

Books from different cultures are invaluable for learning about our fellow man. But the culture of the far east has always been mysterious to me. That is, the culture of honour, promises, bravery, culture, ritual suicide and utter ruthlessness. The Gift of Rain considers these themes in great detail - particularly divided loyalty - and shows the consequence in conflicts of loyalty, but it did not make clear to me how the culture and the brutality could co-exist. Perhaps this is my mistake in looking for logical explanations that fit with my own culture, but I was left as mystified as when I started.

The novel itself falls into two halves - the first ion which Philip learns martial arts and culture from Endo-san, and the second half when Malaysia falls under Japanese occupation. The first half does drag somewhat, although an ardent fan of aikijutsu might disagree. But it (some of it, at least) is needed to set the scene for the second, rather more dramatic half. Here the pace picks up and the story twists and turns. The level of detailing gives a wonderful flavour of Penang at the time, although the jungle scenes lack some of the detailing that might have made it, too, come alive.

The characterization is good too, particularly in terms of the Japanese and Chinese characters. Philip's immediate family - father, sister and brother are not painted with quite so much depth and can appear somewhat functional. But the characters of Yeap, Kon, Endo, Goro and Hirosho are wonderful, even if we never quite understand what makes them tick.

The novel also asks profound questions of colonialism. What is it that makes British occupation of Malaysia acceptable but renders Japanese occupation so unacceptable? What loyalty should a coloniser offer to the colonised? What loyalty should the colonised offer to the coloniser? There are no easy answers, and as Philip tries to discover his own national identity and loyalty on the small scale, Malaysia as a whole faces the same problems.

This is a profound and meaningful book, drawn on a big scale and with real moments of beauty. But at times, it does feel a little overlong, and falls just slightly short of answering that big question - what exactly made the Japanese psyche exactly what it was.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Nov 2008 19:31:12 GMT
It seems strange that you awarded this book the full 5 stars considering some of the comments you make in your review!

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jan 2009 23:28:26 GMT
Perhaps five stars was generous, but four and a half was not an option. The texture was really very rich indeed and the book was well written. I suppose the slight frustration was that had it had slightly less aikijutsu and a slightly faster pace, it might have been an all time great.
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MisterHobgoblin
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