The Bonsai Tree

Synopsis

Jun Nagai, heir to a prominent Japanese spinning empire, takes his new English wife Kate back to Japan after some time in England absorbing Western technology. This is a marriage his arrogant and powerful mother Itsuko, who controls the family business, finds hard to accept and she sets out to destroy it. Jun, fighting for his independence, is pulled between the two cultures owing loyalty to both.

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The Bonsai Tree

Thrown into a strange and incomprehensible world, where the role of a wife is so different, Kate is soon stripped of all her romantic illusions. Her struggle to retain her individuality and adapt to her new environment after a shattering encounter lead her to work as an interpreter. In a bar she meets Tarnura, a business rival of the Nagais. When escaping from him Kate finds herself in Kamagasaki, a place she thought could not exist in the modern miracle of Japan. Here she discovers Japan’s race of untouchables the Burakumin, the gangsters, the destitutes and an ancient area of prostitution like no other in Japan. Her terrifying flight through the red light district – the dustbin of a society in which failure has no place – and her rescue by Father Ota, a Japanese Christian missionary, brings her to a new understanding of the culture she has married into.

In this novel the author highlights not only the contrast between Japan and the Western World, but the barriers that face the foreigner who tries to assimilate with a people who for much of their history closed their doors to the outsider.

Reviews

‘…Chand uses spare, delicate language…  The magic of her book is its simplicity – the uniqueness of the characters and the plausibility of their destinies.’

New York Times Book Review 8th January 1984.

‘’…the work of a sensitive and meticulous writer…The Bonsia Tree is a considerable achievement both as a novel and as a social document; it is written in a style of rare elegance that matches the unusual demands of its subject.’

British Book News  October 1983.

Excerpt

From Chapter Seven

Itsuko sat like a small nesting bird on the floor of the bare matted room.  Shadow dissolved the beams of the ceiling, before her the garden swindled to evening landscape.  At this time the smell of moss and wood reflected the past warm day.  It was unseasonably mild.  There was the sweetness of damp undergrowth, somewhere in the dusk Fumi watered the garden; a wet patterning upon dry leaves in the fading day, the paleness square of her apron could be seen beyond the trees, from the pool came the rhythmic clack of the mortar.  Itsuko stirred and touched her hair;  she felt a restful strength in the absence of the bitterness that had consumed her these past month.

The glass doors of the veranda were drawn back, the garden seemed to fill the room.  Beyond bamboo thickets the moon hung huge, red as blood, close enough to touch.  Itsuko stared at it unswervingly and knew it was an omen.  She had no doubt that present events were the arrangements of the Gods.  Why else was the child dead?  She was certain now of what she must do; at last she saw the way.