I finished this book in tears.
It is 1937, Japan is about to invade China when Stephen, a 17 year old Chinese student at college, contracts TB and his wealthy family sends him to their summer home in Japan to get well. He will be in the care of Matsu, an elderly caretaker whom Stephen always felt was very remote. Away from the hectic, frenzied world of China, Stephen finds himself in a quiet remote village and at first finds it difficult to adjust to this slower pace of life.
As he begins to get better he starts getting to know Matsu and he learns that when Matsu was a young man leprosy swept through his village and he lost his sister to the disease. She committed suicide by walking into the ocean in order to keep ‘shame’ from her family. Matsu also had two friends, Kenzo and Kenzo’s girl-friend Sachi. Sachi also contracted leprosy and Matsu took her to a leper colony where she could live, to prevent her from following the path of his sister.
Matsu finally takes Stephen to the leper colony and introduces him to Sachi. Sachi is the strongest character in the story and it is around her that the others lives take focus. Stephen learns that love does not draw boundaries whether of beauty or nationality. When he leaves the village to return to China he leaves a different person than he was when he came to Japan, just as the reader becomes a different person having followed this story with his/her heart.
This book is not for anyone that demands action or conflict or high drama but it will be one of the treasures on my bookshelves. The writing is spare, clean and lovely. It is a love story, a coming of age story and a story about the real meaning of beauty.