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Plum Wine    by Angela Davis-Gardner order for
Plum Wine
by Angela Davis-Gardner
Order:  USA  Can
Dial, 2007 (2007)

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* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Two worlds come together in this spare story. Barbara, a large, red-haired American, is teaching at a Japanese university, and her spontaneity and ignorance about many things Japanese cause both consternation and amusement among the people she meets. When a teacher who befriended her suddenly dies, Barbara becomes the recipient of a treasured tansu chest, which turns out to contain specially made plum wine. Each bottle is wrapped in rice paper that is filled with calligraphy, the personal memoirs of her benefactress.

Barbara's effort to get the calligraphy translated leads her to a talented young potter, who has secrets of his own. Both the calligraphy and the potter's secrets have to do with the hidden world of the hibakusha, Horoshima survivors. With Barbara we learn something of the horror of that time. And as she uncovers the truths contained in the writings, Barbara also learns how painful life is for the survivors, even today.

There are many beautiful insights into the Japanese way of life in this book: the gentle admonition her friend gives her when Barbara presents a bouquet of flowers, that three or five are plenty, but never four. While the allusive quality of the book was very appealing, it did leave a lot of unmined territory. We never really get into the Japanese characters. We could wish for more information about Barbara's interactions with Michi, her teacher friend, as well as more about her students. We never hear about Barbara from anyone else's point of view. We learn that hibakusha's lives are hidden even from native Japanese.

In Plum Wine, Angela Davis-Gardner has given us a flavorful taste, but we know that those bottles hold much more liquid.

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