Tuesday, February 3, 2009

14. The Ginger Tree


By: Oswald Wynd
Rated: 4.5 Stars
From: My Shelves

This is the best example of the East-meets-West genre to come my way in ages. Written mainly as the diary extracts of an innocent Scottish girl who sails out just after the turn of the century for her proper marriage to a British military attache in China, the novel tells of her subsequent scandalous love affair with a Japanese aristocrat.

MY COMMENTS FROM MY AMAZON REVIEW OF DECEMBER 30, 2002: From the very first page of the book my interest was firmly engaged. I loved the descriptions of Mary's travels and how she slowly started changing her ideas and started emerging as a person in her own right and changing in ways that she couldn't write home to Mama about. That's one advantage of first person, I think and in particular of a diary/letters format. You hear the person's voice directly and vividly, and if the diary/letters format is used, you get a little bonus of feeling like you are eavesdropping and even spying.

I was momentarily distracted from the story during the typhoon when I caught myself drafting a Complaint for a lawsuit to file on Mary's behalf against the steam ship line for gross negligence in failing to provide any safety precautions for their passengers and leaving Mary alone in her cabin clinging to her bunk to keep from being hurled out onto the floor where her trunk was being catapulted from one side of the cabin to the other with the rolling of the ship. Had this story been set in more litigious times Mary would have owned that steam ship line by the time she got to Singapore.

While not my favorite style, generally first person POV's don't bother me all that much, although I regard them pretty much as a cop out on the part of most authors. But with this book once the story arrived in Singapore it's first person POV started to get in the way of the story. Or at least it got in the way of the story I wanted to read. This was a very rich tale, set in times that were fascinating to me. 1900-1945 is my very favorite period in history and IMO if Wynd had used all the same exact scenarios and expanded on them by introducing other point of views this could have been a great novel instead of merely a good one.

For example: While I loved hearing Mary's POV in her journals and letters, a little peek into Richards POV would have been very interesting. I kept wondering what's was with this guy?
Then after the story moved to Tokyo and so much conflict developed between Kentaro and Mary I was wishing for a station break and Paul Harvey's voice to come into my head saying "And now....for the rest of the story" I longed to hear Kentaro's POV.
And the last scene in the book, well.....to my mind that scene begged to be in Tomo's voice. That would have been so poignant and would have given me some real closure.

But in spite of all of the above, I really liked this book. My favorite parts involve descriptions that somehow convey the Chinese and Japanese cultures and show how a person who is open to different experiences and emotions can discover a whole alternate reality, if they're willing.
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