Saturday, April 5, 2008

Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner

My husband came home from his latest business trip with a pile of books for me. One of my good friends and I regularly trade good finds and he had visited her when he was in California. There's nothing like filling up your bookshelf with luscious looking books, especially when you trust your friend's judgment and generally really like the same books.
I was in the mood to read something different. Over the years I have read a handful of stories about Asian culture by authors such as Amy Tan and Gail Tsukiyama. It is a culture that I know very little about and I have enjoyed adding to my knowledge through the works of these great authors. I was hoping for the same from Davis-Gardner and in some ways, my wish was fulfilled.
The story takes place in the mid-1960s during the escalation of the Vietnam War. Barbara, an American teaching English at a women's college, is forced to defend, or at the very least, respond to questions about American involvement in Asia. The correlation between Vietnam and World War II become a crucial link in the story as much of the intrigue revolves around the background of certain Japanese characters. All of these characters are connected through their shared history as hibakusha, Hiroshima survivors.
While there is quite well-known anti-War anti-nuclear weapon literature that grew out of the experiences of Hiroshima survivors, I have never read anything else that discusses the effects of surviving the bomb on individuals and their attempt to try to return to normal life. Davis-Gardner demonstrates the physical and psychological links that connect these individuals who had the fate of not dying. It is a poignant message that is rarely discussed.
However, the love story that she uses as the vehicle to explain the position of the hibakusha becomes vaguely annoying. Barbara continues to chase a man who is obviously not emotionally available. And as is too common in a certain style of literature, the book just ends. There is some attempt at resolution, but I feel as though it needed more of a conclusion.
Despite the drawbacks of the storyline, I'm really glad that I read Plum Wine. I feel like I have a more complex awareness of life in Japan post-Hiroshima. At the very least, it has made me want to go back and learn more about the impact of the bombing on the survivors who did not choose to become politically active as a result of their experiences. And, I will happily continue to read the books sitting on my shelf from CA.

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