The China Lover: Puppet and Confusing Plot

The China Lover is written by Ian Buruma. He interviewed Yoshiko Yamagauchi for this book. Yes, she is a real person. Did things happen to her exactly how this book depicted? Probably not. This book may contain events that actually happened, but the author himself says, “[…] not in the way they appear in this book” (Buruma 393). This book is fiction. It is not meant to be mistaken as fact.


Now on with the show. This book has three parts, but what the three parts don’t tell you right away is that they are three different people’s perspective. This is partly why finding the plot is confusing. What do these three parts have in common? The answer is Yoshiko Yamagauchi. She appears in all three parts and is a constant. One would think the main character of this story would be the person the point of view follows. That is not the case. She grows up through these people’s eyes. They tell you the things she cannot see. The plot itself, even though confusing to find until you  are closer to the end, has to do with her life and the want of peace. Actually, it is part three that really explains the tittle. Yoshiko is talking about how she is not allowed to go home to China. China is and forever will be her home. Hence The China Lover being the title of this novel.

Since the confusion of this novel (at least for me) has been clarified, it is now time for my thoughts. The book moved slowly at first. I didn’t understand the need for the background information, but as I read on, it helped to draw a connection between the men that have watched over Yoshiko Yamagauchi throughout her life. In the first part one notices that she is a key point, however, it isn’t until later one sees how significant she is. The first part is honestly my least favorite.

Once the second part arrives, things started to pick up. This section is different because it is from the perspective of an American. When he first visits Japan he is depicted as a tourist just like any other American person. He continues to grow with his knowledge and with his return, knows more than some of the Japanese themselves. I like this aspect because it shows just how much he knows in order to possibly help them in their struggles. The ending of his section, however, leaves you with the idea that he decides to remain an outsider. This gives a view an actual person that could have, and probably did, go through something like that character did.

The third part is honestly my favorite, and not because it is the last part. It shows a different perspective of Yoshiko Yamagauchi and ties the whole thing together. Yoshika becomes a reporter at one point and a politician in another… or so she thinks. Through the book one may have noticed puppetry of Yoshiko, but if you are like me, it didn’t really occur to you until the book spells it out for you. That’s what happened. It opens your eyes to all the little things throughout the story that had a bigger part to play in the end.

The ending isn’t happy. One could say it had a rather sad view of things. It’s one of those books that ends up making one think. Which is one of the best kinds of books if you ask me.


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