The Street of A Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
Published August 2008 by St Martin's Press
In 1939 Japan, two orphans are being raised by their grandparents. Hiroshi shows early promise as a sumo wrestler. Kenji has discovered the art of making masks for the Noh theater.
But when Japan draws the U.S. into war, the boys' dreams must be put on hold. Meanwhile, the young daughters of a great sumo teacher are also suffering through the war. After the war, the lives of the girls and the young men become intertwined with the young men's lives when Hiroshi is chosen to begin training as a sumo. The story follows these young people for nearly thirty years as the young men pursue their dreams in very traditional fields as their country moves into the future. Along the way we also get to know their grandparents, Kenji's sensei, and the girls' father.
Although the novel is epic in time span, Tsukiyama tells the tale in small stories. Her prose is simple and she recreates a vivid portrait of Japan as it struggled to recover from World War II. The New York Times called the book tense, but I never really felt that Tsukiyama achieved a sense of tension; I saw pretty much everything coming before it happened. I learned a lot about sumo wrestling and Noh mask making but I felt like Tsukiyama gave a little too much attention to these things at times. None of the sumo matches felt any different from the others and I was never in doubt as to the outcome. Some of the peripheral characters got a lot of attention (Kenji's sensei, for example); this sometimes took away from the main stories. For all that was going on in the book, this was a slow read; and at over 400 pages, I really had to push myself to get through it. Once again, I felt like the book could have been shorter and not lost a thing.
Lisa, at Breaking the Fourth Wall, seemed to feel about the same way as I did on this one. Here's her review: