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4.6 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 18 June 2007
This is a most exciting Book by a new Author from which one can only hope that many future books will come.The story is so gripping that I was unable to put the book down for the last 100 pages.

The atmosphere is superbly achieved and one feels one could be living in Penang where the book is set in the 30s and 40s.The interplay between the various ethnic groups and the effect on them of WW2 cannot have been better portrayed.Although set in Penang the story could have easily been set elsewhere in Asia and will be of interest to millions of people for whom the problems of WW2 have not been much exposed to date.

But essentially this is an exciting story with some dramatic aspects that are not resolved until the final pages.
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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.
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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.
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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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on 4 April 2007
A remarkable first novel. The hero is half Chinese and half European brought up in an English family in Penang, Malaya. The story is set in the years of the second world war and is a deeply moving tale of divided loyalties. Highly reccommended
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