Written in lush, evocative prose, The Gift of Rain spans decades as it takes readers from the final days of the Chinese emperors to the dying era of the British Empire, and through the mystical temples, bustling cities, and forbidding rain forests of Malaya.
In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Huttonthe half-Chinese youngest child of the head of one of Penangs great trading familiesfeels alienated from both the British and Chinese communities. He discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat who rents an island from his father. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido.
But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. As World War II rages in Europe, the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, and Philip realizes that his mentor and senseito whom he owes absolute loyaltyis a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and he is forced into collaborating with the Japanese to safeguard his family. He turns into the ultimate outsider, trusted by none and hated by many.
Tormented by his part in the events, Philip risks everything by working in secret to save as many people as he can from the brutality of the invaders. The Gift of Rain is shot through with universal themes, a novel about agonizingly divided loyalties and unbearable loss. But it is also about human courage andultimatelyabout the nature of enduring loyalty.
The real meat of the story is in the novel's second half. The Japanese invade, and Phillip finds himself with conflicting loyalties. Every decision he makes is, in its way, both right and wrong. There is no white or black here, only shades of gray. It's the moral dilemmas Phillip faces and how he confronts them that move this novel from a good first effort into the "must-read" category. The story becomes very fast-paced and cinematic. It is by turns heartbreaking, brutal, and moving. (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Entertainment Weekly - Troy Patterson
Getting to his evocative descriptions of temples and local customs involves trudging through a slow-paced spy plot, a heap of superfluous dialogue, and dinner scenes that read like restaurant reviews. The Gift of Rai requires a Zen master’s patience. B-
[P]ortentous dialogue and belabored themes undermine its otherwise engrossing plot...the author makes it clear that issues of treason and patriotism - and fate and free will - defy easy resolution.
Starred Review. [A] remarkable debut saga of intrigue and akido...Hutton's first-person narration is measured, believable and enthralling.
Starred Review. Strong characters and page-turning action make this a top pick for historical fiction.
Sunday Telegraph - Ed Lake
What distinguishes The Gift of Rain is its wistful and surprisingly earnest supernaturalism. Its characters all seem to have met in previous lives, to be haunted by ancient prophecies, or to be cursed to turn into one another.
Tan Twan Eng's vision - the detached, aesthetic air, concentration on the visual and racy, episodic plotting -might perhaps have been more naturally realised in a decent Manga production. But this is an accomplished, if eccentric, debut.
The Guardian - Sam Jordison
Most impressive, however, is the modern author's willingness to deal in the kind of grey areas and moral ambiguities to which [Conrad] used to give such eloquent voice ...
I'm aware that in drawing parallels to a great writer like Conrad I might quickly go too far, so let me put the brakes on now. The Gift Of Rain is no Heart Of Darkness, or even The Rover. In fact, a more accurate comparison for the book could be to a Merchant Ivory film... Only with far more martial arts and far less Helena Bonham Carter. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing - and the book will probably make an excellent feature - but sometimes the descriptions of cocktail parties, old cars, sumptuous interior locations, and costumes grow tiresome.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Sandy Wonderful book This was one of the best book I've read in a long time. I book of family relations, deep friendships and hardships. Wonderful story of the Japanese invasion of Penang during WWII.
A Short History of Penang Most of the action in The Gift of Rain occurs on
the island of Penang (part of the Malayan state of Penang)
situated off the northwest corner of the Malay Peninsula, in
the Strait of Malacca (maps of
Penang). The small, turtle-shaped island has a total
area of approximately 293 square kilometers (183 square
miles), with an estimated population of 678,000 (2007). Most
people live in or near the capital city of George Town. The
island itself is less developed than the rest of the state
of Penang, as its interior is hilly and densely forested.
Although mainland Malaysia itself has a long and complex
history, the island of Penang was largely unpopulated until
the British "discovered" it in the 18th century.
Captain Francis Light secured it for the British East
India Company in 1786, believing it would be an ideal
stopover point for British ships on the...
Utterly compelling and impressively detailed - dramatically recounts the story behind the Bataan Death March and the realities of survival in a Japanese prison camp. A true-to-life narrative as intelligently orchestrated and satisfying as the raid that ultimately liberated these men."
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