This is a truly beautiful book, epic and grand
in scale. Alan Lessik writes in melodic
and lyrical style, telling a sweeping tale of love between the world wars, how ordinary
people’s lives were so disrupted by the collapse of relations between nations,
and indeed how a peace-loving man finds himself tested at every turn, by global
events and tragic ones in his own life.
This is much more than simple LGBT romance, and
it would be tremendously unfair to categorize it exclusively as such. Lessik is a truly gifted wordsmith, who has rather
composed a historical literary masterpiece.
More fascinating is the revelation in the author’s afterword that much
of the book is semi-biographical, based loosely on the life of his own Japanese
relative. It is well-researched and
indeed a labour of genuine love. As his
protagonist, Kenzo, travels the world in his diplomatic work in the aftermath
of World War One, he still lives by the codes and ways of his own ancestry, the
Samurai, taking on a faux-bride to conceal his homosexuality in an increasingly
intolerant Western society. We learn a
great deal, from Lessik’s effort, about the Samurai and Japanese culture
generally, as well as geo-politics and the stuffiness of the civilized world in
this period of great hope, yet even greater instability; it appears that none
could have foreseen the destruction and disruption to their own lives waiting
just around the corner. You feel that perhaps,
as the Zen monk he becomes following tragedy in his life, Kenzo is perhaps naïve
at times about the further heartache coming his way. And, ultimately, without giving too much
away, there is little satisfaction for the reader – of course, by ending the
book at a period in time just before we all know how bad things are about to
get between the Japanese and Americans, we have to assume there will be no
happy ending for Kenzo. In this respect,
I think that Lessik has kept his future intentionally ambiguous, and that of his
distant daughter, the intended recipient of this journal.
Lessik has created a quite superb book, its
vision like broad brush-strokes across the page, yet its detail fine to the
point of academia; he knows his subject matter tremendously well, and we the
readers are all the better informed for it.
I would be very keen to read other work from this author, though I have
to be truthful and admit that I am not hopeful it could be as good as this.
In : Book Reviews