The Samurai’s Garden
by Gail Tsukiyama
Matsu, the Samurai of the title, is actually a servant in the small seaside town of Tarumi, Japan. Working since childhood for a wealthy Chinese family, Matsu has spent his whole life in the town, maintaining both the beach house and the garden.
His guardianship extends to looking after Stephen, the 20-year-old son of the family, as well as to others in the community. Stephen, suffering from tuberculosis, is sorely in need of such care. Sent by his family to recuperate, by swimming and painting in the fresh air of Tarumi, Stephen is initially kept at a distance by the taciturn Matsu.
Gradually, though, as Stephen narrates the events of his Japanese sojourn, his relationship with Matsu is infused with a growing respect for the strength, dignity and sense of honor of the older man. Stephen learns about the many ways in which Matsu has acted heroically, yet unassumingly. In contrast to the orderly house and garden maintained by Matsu, personal crises, including heartbreak, sickness and death, have left their mark on Tarumi. The massive upheavals of the outside world in the late 1930s also begin to be felt, even in the quiet isolation of the seaside town. The distant rumblings of the Second World War grow louder, as news emerges of the Japanese invasion of China.
Disquieting news of a personal nature also reaches Stephen, as he learns about the complexities of adult relationships, including his parents’ marriage and the romantic triangle of Matsu, his friend Kenzo, and Sachi, the woman they both love. Once-beautiful, the gentle Sachi now lives in the mountains above Tarumi, in Yamaguchi – the Village of the Lepers. Sachi is initially a figure of intrigue to Stephen but gradually becomes his friend. Stephen also meets Keiko, a young woman his own age, but the ominous clouds of war color their relationship. Stephen leaves Japan at the end of the novel, and though the war-torn future remains unknown, Stephen has gained clarity in the more enduring issues of life and love.
For On the Same Page, the Library has purchased the 1996 paperback edition of The Samurai’s Garden, published by St. Martin’s Press. It is also available at the Library in a Spanish language edition.
Gail Tsukiyama, author of this month’s On the Same Page selection, The Samurai’s Garden, will read and discuss her book from 6:30–7:30 p.m. on March 22 at the Main Library’s Koret Auditorium.
About the Author
Gail Tsukiyama, was born and raised in San Francisco and now lives in El Cerrito, Calif. Her combined ancestry—a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a Japanese father from Hawaii—has given her a unique perspective on these two cultures. She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in English from San Francisco State University, where she has been a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing.
Originally focusing on poetry, she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award. She has also been a freelance book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle and a judge (in 1997 and 1998) and fiction panel chair (in 2006) for the Kiriyama Book Prize, which recognizes “outstanding books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia.” She is the book review editor for WaterBridge Review, an online magazine and was one of 50 authors chosen by the Library of Congress to participate in the first National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. She has also been the guest speaker at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and the Sydney Writers’ Festival and has received the PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles National Literary Award, which honors excellence in multicultural literature. Her short stories have been translated into many languages around the world.
Her interest in what she refers to as “early Chinese feminists” can be seen in many of her works. Her first novel, Women of the Silk, about a sisterhood of silk workers in early 20th century China, was published in 1991 and became an unexpected bestseller. Three years after the publication of The Samurai’s Garden, which was roughly based on the experiences of an uncle, Night of Many Dreams was published in 1998, featuring two sisters, and their mother and aunt, who escape the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and return after World War II. A year later, The Language of Threads, a sequel to Women of the Silk, was published. In 2002, she published Dreaming Water about a mother and dying daughter who are helped by, and in turn provide help to, another mother and her two daughters.
Of Related Interest
Bookreporter.com Author Profile: Gail Tsukiyama. Online interview, includes biographical information and book group information for The Samurai’s Garden.
Gail Tsukiyama - Official website of the author, includes book listings and reviews.
Pereira, Roseanne. Novel ideas. Gail Tsukiyama: Mundane Activities are Calming. November 16, 2006. NPR online interview with the author.
Sherwin, Elizabeth. Gail Tsukiyama writes to explore her dual heritage. March 29, 1998. Online interview with the author.