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THE JAPANESE LOVER: Fiction Novel
AUTHOR: Rani Manicka
BEST SELLER(S): The Rice Mother, which Won the South East Asia and South Pacific Region 2003 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Touching Earth (2004)
SYNOPSIS: AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE
"The child is destined to marry a man of truly immense wealth. But the marriage will be a disaster."
The Priest's prediction proves true: betrayed by her father and sent away from her tiny village in Ceylon, the naive young girl becomes mistress of a luxurious Malayan estate, but it is a life without passion and Parvathi yearns to love - and be loved - with complete abandon.
THE GENERAL'S MISTRESS
"If you wish to spare your daughter, you may take her place."
When the Japanese invade Malaya, they requisition the estate and Parvathi is forced to make a split second decision to take the man who should have been her sworn enemy to be her lover. For the first time, she experiences sexual ecstasy. And gradually, her enemy becomes the lover, she has always yearned for...
EXCERPT: "He sat up.
'In front of this empty gourd of sake, these chopsticks, and these leftover bits of food, will you marry me?'
His face was full of black shadows. She could not see the expression in his eyes. For the Japanese army it was not sex that was taboo, but love. It was the unspoken rule. They were not to take wives. They were not to leave progeny.
'Won't it destroy your career?'
'A woman's beauty must be judged by the men she destroys.'
She closed her eyes. But the tears squeezed through anyway.
'Yes, I will.' It was only a whisper."
MSM Speaks: The cover had believed me into thinking falsely that this was another tale of a Geisha, but I was wrong. Japan, during the World War II, in this novel, forms a very small but significant part and hence the term Japanese Lover comes in, much much later in the book. Rani Manicka narrates the story of Parvathi, a girl from a tiny village, Vathiry in Ceylon, whose future was predicted by a priest, following which she had spend the seventeen years of her life, locked up behind the high mud fences. Her childhood is set in the era of 1916. She is married off to a wealthy widower Kasu Marimuthu, one of the strongest and quietest characters in the book, by her father - who lies to him, by showing him the picture of a beautiful, fair and tall woman. Parvathi is dark, beautiful at heart and definitely petite. Yes, she gets to be the mistress of a huge mansion, but love? She doesn't. Her prayers to the Snake God haven't been answered.
The Reader grows with Parvathi, as her thoughts and silence paint colorful picture and innocent view of a world very different from what she had grown up in. She learns to eat like the whites. She forms inseparable bonds with the servants of the mansion - Maya - Gifted and a wise, medicine woman and Kupu - Forest is his life, his food and his death. Parvathi realizes attraction for the first time with Kupu who has a resolve of steel and later in the book, shows his love by making a Goddess who resembles Parvathi. Kasu Marimuthu eventually comes to accommodate the dark skinned girl and calls her Sita - for his first wife was Parvathi too - beautiful, sultry and stylish. Nothing like this peasant girl. At the age of 27, Parvathi is donned in the white saree as the Japanese invade Malaya and enter her mansion to requisition her estate. The General of the Army gives her a choice - to let his men have her daughter Rubini or - with a slight movement of his lips, he whispers - herself to him. The choice is instantly made, for Parvathi has never seen a need so raw, a deprivation and desire so obvious, that she agrees to the sin. The thrill of being loved by a foreigner and eventually falling in love with him, takes the Reader to a romantic story during the war. Eventually, the General has to leave, to never return - but he leaves only after marrying her symbolically and leaving with her a cherry blossom print umbrella. The story after this really loses the track and derails to crash on the Reader at the end.
Rani Manicka could have ended the story beautifully, but she romanticizes the war, making Parvathi look like a nymphomaniac. Few characters of the story, like Parvathi's children are not given much emphasis except in few pages towards the end, where they are suddenly grown ups. The novel is very descriptive initially, not in a bad way, but becomes very choppy towards the end, which made me cringe as it was not a nice way to conclude. However, it is pleasantly written and is also fast paced. The simplicity of the character and her curiosity reaches out and therefore, the Readers can relate to her as well. A coffee table read. MSM recommends if you like to experiment. Ms. Manicka is a promising writer.
My Rating: 3/5.
The Japanese Lover @ Houder and Stoughton (2010), An Hachette UK Company.
ISBN-13: 9781444700336, 978-1444700336
flipkart price: 295/- INR
Pages: 326 (Including Glossary)