Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

Book Review: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I cracked open the cover of Isabel Allende’s latest novel, The Japanese Lover. To be honest, I was surprised with the title – I always associate Allende with stories set in Latin America, magical and mystical and certainly not settings in Asia.

I quickly came to discover that Allende, in fact, utilized a familiar setting after all – San Francisco, close to her home in California, and sixty short miles away from mine. That got me hooked, and I could hardly put the book down.

Using the dual time periods of the 2000s and 1940s, The Japanese Lover tells the story of Alma Belasco, an elderly, eccentric woman living in a nursing home, and her decades old love affair with Ichimei, the son of her family’s Japanese gardener. At the end of Alma’s life, her grandson Seth and her care worker, Irina (who is harboring her own secrets) strive to discover who is sending Alma secret letters and gardenias.

I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story line as Allende weaves the disparate love stories of Alma, Ichimei, Seth, Irina against the backdrop of both World War 2 and contemporary San Francisco. I was swept into Alma’s life as a young girl, forced to immigrate from Poland to seek protection from Nazi persecution by living in the San Francisco mansion of her uncle Issac. And just as quickly, I found myself caught in the narrative of Irina, herself an immigrant who struggles generations later with her own back story and coming to terms with her inability to commit to a loving relationship.

Allende skillfully weaves in and out of current time to Japanese Internment camps, sharing the back story of Ichimei, his family, and offering a snapshot of what life was like for Californians of Japanese descent pre-World War 2 who were forced to leave everything they knew to live in government-run prison camps. As a student of California history, I found Allende’s historical details descriptive and factual, thought provoking and tender. Alma and Ichimei, cognizant of their inability to publicly demonstrate their interracial love, share a passion that spans generations

 

Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

I just loved this book – everything about it resonated with me. Allende’s tender portrayal of Alma and Ichimei illuminates a passion that spans generations despite societal norms which restrict their ability to demonstrate interracial love, alongside relationships that are both acceptable and secret in a multitude of ways. All along the way, I couldn’t stop thinking of our world today in 2016, that has come so far in defining both marriage and love, and yet we live in a country which still struggles with racial and societal inequity. For me, The Japanese Lover provided the perfect vehicle to think deeply about what our world would look like if we could put down the barriers between races, if we could eliminate the huge divide between income levels, and really look at each other as soulful humans, each with an ability to love and be loved for who and what we are, not who or what others think we are.

Isabel Allende’s novel The Japanese Lover is one of those books that I know will linger with me as I move through my own work and life, attempting to teach my children to love and not hate, to be kind and not cruel, and to make the world a better place for those who come after us.

For more great book ideas, head over to Brynn Allison’s Literary Maven site.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Best Life, November 2013

when autumn

flares out at the last,

boisterous

and like us longing 

to stay- how everything lives,

shifting

from one bright vision to another,

forever

in these momentary pastures.
~Mary Oliver

November…that time of year when the world begins to slow down, the morning bike rides to work are brisk to the fingers and nose, and the afternoon returns with warmth and sunshine. November…that time of year when we begin to hunker down, reflect, prepare, and hug those we love just a little bit more tightly.

What I loved this November:

Best Views:

Super Soul Sunday

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

Whether you love Oprah or not, you’ve got to check out her Super Soul Sunday series. I may be a bit slow to become hooked, but this month she offered some thoughtful and thought-provoking episodes that had me watching them over and over again. One of my favorites this month was Oprah’s talk with Maya Angelou. She even inspired my fourteen-year-old son to watch with me and to write his Great American essay about what he learned.

Best Books:

Help. Thanks. Wow by Anne Lamott

Help. Thanks. Wow. morning read for gratitude
Help. Thanks. Wow. morning read for gratitude

Anne never disappoints me; this book may be less lengthy than some of her others, but it helped me start my mornings off with inspiration, gratitude and guidance. Next up on my Lamott must-read list: Stitches.

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner

This book wasn’t a ‘feel good’ read like Help.Thanks.Wow., but it did make me think about how grateful I am to have my children to love every day. The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, tells the story of a twenty-year-old college student’s murder twenty years prior, and her parent’s struggle to come to grips with life without her.

Best Blog Reads:

From the beautiful blog, Barnstorming, I loved the post about the Gift of Fragility. At this time of year, and when I’m feeling especially vulnerable to change, I find myself clinging to every fragile moment.

I love the daily posts from First Sip, and this poem about the love for a daughter made my heart weep. Made me think of my own beautiful, strong girl who is about to leave home. Consider having First Sip delivered to your inbox, too.

Day 1 of training: ✔️ #geterdone via _lilwolfey_
Day 1 of training: ✔️ #geterdone via _lilwolfey_

Best Recipes:

My daughter was on a Wednesday afternoon baking kick (must have had something to do with the stress of college apps due this month), and pumpkin topped the list. Our favorite? This recipe for moist and somewhat-healthy pumpkin bread.pumpkin bread

Twice this month my son requested spaghetti and meatballs; our favorite recipe was Giada’s Turkey Meatballs from Food Network. So easy and delicious-you should try them tonight!

Another sweet treat we tried this month came from one of my favorite recipe blogs, Iowa Girl Eats. Her recipe for Mini Pumpkin Sticky Buns uses pumpkin butter, crescent roll dough and November-flavored spices to create a sticky sweet bunch of yum!

Best Quotes:

Mr. Johnson (Sesame Street)
Mr. Johnson (Sesame Street) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amidst all the hunkering down and reflection, when I received this quote in my daily email from Goodreads it sure made me smile and remember times when life was so simple. Happy birthday, Sesame Street!

“Sunny day , Sweepin’ the clouds away, On my way to where the air is sweet ” – Joe Raposo

Best Photos:

Instagram is my new fave photo website, and I’d love to connect with you there! Here are some of the shots I loved best this month:

My boy and my dog...love.
My boy and my dog…love.
How could they betray me so?
How could they betray me so?
I tried to spend more time looking up than down in November
I tried to spend more time looking up than down in November

Best Websites:

Looking for some good news? Try Daily Good as an alternative to other news websites-you’ll surely find something to smile and think about.

I’m always looking for education inspiration, and lately I’ve found it on Edutopia. It’s worth a look if you’re interested in cutting edge education practices.

Are you a pinner? I use Pinterest for all sorts of things: collecting recipes, ideas for writing, teaching resources, places I’d love to travel…the ideas are endless. I’d love to pin with you here.

Best Moments:

Our teenage daughters talked us into a spontaneous trip to the Warfield in San Francisco to see Hoodie Allen…yeah, we’d never heard of him either. After completely embarrassing our girls by insisting we watch over them until the entered the theater (the Warfield is in one of the sketchiest parts of SF), we enjoyed a fabulous girls night out on the town!

Girls night out in SF
Girls night out in SF

 While I can’t honestly say that grading all these notebooks was my favorite moment, I can tell you that when my daughter arrived with a surprise coffee it made the afternoon so much more bearable!

Coffee makes everything easier...
Coffee makes everything easier…

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday month ahead.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco’s Exploratorium and Golden Gate Bridge Bike Ride

Living in northern California, there’s never a shortage of places to go or things to do. As a ‘last gasp of summer’ fling, we headed off to San Francisco for a day of exploring. It’s an easy drive from our house, and when we’re sweltering in triple digit heat, a little fog and drizzle is perfect!

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

English: Ferry Building in San Francisco, Cali...
English: Ferry Building in San Francisco, California in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Recently relocated on the Embarcadero near the Ferry Building, the San Francisco Exploratorium is full of intriguing exhibits and activities to twist your brain and move your body.

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Kids and grown ups are equally entertained!

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

And if there’s too much stimuli inside, a quick step out onto the deck provides a gorgeous view of the ‘old’ Bay Bridge span.travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

We even got to experience a real-life fire evacuation…fortunately, it was a false alarm.travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Inside, we were right back exploring for several hours.

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t – I loved creating these digital images of us!

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Finally, hunger won over curiosity and we headed to our second stop – The Slanted Door in the Ferry Building.travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

The Slanted Door came highly recommended, so we were excited to get a table easily. The modern Vietnamese menu was impressive, as was the view from the dining room. Personally, I liked my view of my boys!

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Cam was adventurous and tried the “Slanted Door Spring Rolls” – an interesting combination of shrimp, mint, and pork, with a delicious peanut dipping sauce. He was so adept with the chopsticks!

travel with mamawolfe to San FranciscoWe all agreed that this dish was our favorite – lemongrass chicken with red onion, roasted jalapeno, roasted chili paste, and roasted peanut, served with brown rice. Yum! travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

The carmelized wild gulf shrimp ere pretty tasty, too – I liked the yellow onion and garlic sauteed in a caramel chili sauce.travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Unbelieveably, he still had room for dessert – couldn’t resist the soft snickerdoodle ice cream cookie sandwiches.travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

The next activity involved getting outside – and getting on bikes. Most people wouldn’t think about riding bikes in a city known for eyepopping hills, but in reality, San Francisco is an awesome place to ride. travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Starting at the Ferry Building, we followed the water. Past Peir 39, Ghiradelli Square, alongside the tourists we rode. Pretty nice views!travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Riding through Fort Mason offers some spectacular vistas of the San Francisco Bay.travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

We decided to go for it, and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge!travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

Eventually, we made it to the other side!

travel with mamawolfe to San Francisco

I have to admit – riding across the bridge was kind of creepy. It was misty, and while there is a nice barrier between the bikes and the cars, the outside edge is surprisingly exposed to the water. I decided to just put my head down and ride straight across. I stopped once, but quickly realized that if I looked down too much I might not have the fortitude to keep going. I was relieved to make it to the large, concrete exit on the Sausalito side, but like my Nicaraguan zip lining adventure, I felt a sense of great accomplishment that I did it.

I felt the same way about our adventure to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge – so glad that we took the day to go. Time goes by so fast.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Nicaragua Packing Party

Seeds of Learning packing party

Today was our official ‘packing party’ for our trip to Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua. We leave tomorrow night! The receiving of the donations and packing of the supplies makes the trip seem so real…this is the exciting part for me!Seeds of Learning packing party

Why a packing party? Well, as part of our trip, we collect donations of school supplies, books, office supplies, crafts, and other items that are usable to the schools built by Seeds of Learning. This year, in large thanks for the interview and article published in The Davis Enterprise, our community stepped up and donated so many supplies that they filled my car AND sixteen suitcases, duffel bags, bins and boxes.

Seeds of Learning packing party

I wasn’t sure if we would fit everything, but thanks to our expert packers (and soon to be school construction workers), they managed to get each box and bag tightly packed – and no container weighed more than the 35 lb. weight limit.Seeds of Learning packing party

Let’s see… 35 lbs. each, times 16 boxes…thats 560 lbs of supplies! WOW!Seeds of Learning packing party Seeds of Learning packing party

I was astounded at the outpouring of support from our community, as well as cash donations from others living far away, that helped us gather such a huge amount of materials. Cameron packed dozens of brand new backpacks – the kids in Nicaragua will love having something new and all their own to take to school each day!

Seeds of Learning packing party

Linnea and I packed dozens of children’s books, all in Spanish. I got excited just reading the titles – I can’t wait to read them to the children in person! Many of these donations meant a lot to the owners, and we appreciate you giving up those parts of your children’s childhood to help the Nicaraguan kids with their education. I promise they will be well used and well loved for many years.

Seeds of Learning packing party

Tomorrow night, we fly out on a red eye flight from San Francisco, California to San Salvador, El Salvador – about 5 hours. After a short layover, we fly to Managua, Nicaragua-just under an hour of flying time. When we arrive in Managua we’ll be met by Seeds of Learning staff, and will drive nearly two hours to Ciudad Dario, where our adventure really begins.

Seeds of Learning

Thanks so much to all the supporters of our 2013 trip…we couldn’t do this work without you. Think good thoughts for us, and stay tuned for updates from the work site and around Nicaragua. The nineteen of us, as well as the Seeds of Learning staff and the people of Nicaragua thank you.

Adios! ¡Hasta pronto!

 

English: Territorio soberano.
Territorio soberano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Best Life, April 2013

I don’t read a lot of magazines, but I do have some favorites- “O” being one of them. I’m an original subscriber. Some years have been better than others, I’ll admit, and right now one of my favorite parts of her issues is the “My Best Life” series.

A firm believer in searching for the simple gratitudes in life, especially when times get tough, I thought that until Oprah interviews me for her magazine, I’d start my own “Best Life” series on mamawolfe. Who knows-maybe I’ll discover something new about myself that will help me create a better life for me and my family.

Best Place To Live:

Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California (Photo credit: the_tahoe_guy)

Northern California-no question! For those of you who don’t know, California could be virtually split in two! Southern California is what many non-Californians think of when they imagine the Golden State-Hollywood, movie stars, beaches, palm trees, and people driving around in convertibles. But for me, northern California has it all-the ocean ( a bit colder than LA, for sure, but equally beautiful), the mountains (Sierra snow!), great food (San Francisco, anyone?), the arts, diverse population, and even a change in seasons!

Best Spontaneous Decision:

Ciudad Dario, Nicaragual
my best life – in Nicaragua

In 2010, I learned about a non-profit that helped build schools in rural Nicaragua. Something inside me clicked, and I signed up myself and my two kids to help.  I’m a planner by nature, but this time I simply went with my gut and did what felt right. Turns out it was a life=changing experience for me and my two kids-so much so, that we’re going back for more this summer!

Best Thrill:

CameronZip lining in the Nicaraguan jungle. It was one of those moments when I either had to conquer my fear of heights, or let my children zip off into the canopy without me. They had absolutely no fear; me-tons. The first moment I pushed off from the platform I experienced sheer terror and gratefully landed in the strong arms of the guide a short thirty seconds later. After a few more zips, I announced I was done and ready to get down. Then I noticed my ten-year-old son flying by in an ‘upside-down Superman’, and the guide gently told me there was no turning back, and I had fourteen more zips to go!

Best Way To Express  Yourself:

Writing, most definitely. I’ve always been a writer, but for my young life it was all private. I filled journal after journal with poetry, thoughts, and reflections, but it wasn’t until I found my voice as an adult that I began to share my writing with the world. For me, writing pushes me out of my comfort zone. It helps me to clarify my thoughts while simultaneously  voicing my deepest fears and strongest opinions. Being a writer has created a role model for my children and my middle school students, and forces me to walk my talk.

Best Pinch Myself Moment:

motherhoodI never was one of those women who knew for certain I wanted to be a mom, but the moment my daughter and son were born I knew it was the best decision I’d ever made. Both babies didn’t come ‘by the book’, and my labor certainly showed me an inner strength I never knew I had. The instant I held my first baby I changed from girl to woman to mom in an instant; when my second was born I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have two perfect little humans to love for the rest of my life.

What about you? How would you respond to these ‘best life’ questions?

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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