This book was good - wait not just good it was excellent. It made my brain work in overtime trying to figure out why the characters did what they did. I think I am getting a little ahead of myself here. Here is a brief synopsis from The NewYorker "Set in Penang in the years just before and during the Second World War, this début novel explores the consequences of love and duty. Philip Hutton, born to a British father and a Chinese mother, finds himself drawn to a mysterious Japanese diplomat and aikido master, and soon becomes his devoted student. But their friendship—described in romantic, even erotic terms—is called into question when the Japanese invade the island and Philip must decide whether to join the resistance or collaborate with the occupying army."
The novel sounds very straight forward - another war book but it is so much more than that. The characters are so developed and are so complex that I kept saying out loud to myself "WHY!!" I loved (and hated) the relationship between the narrator (Philip Hutton) and his sensei (Endo-san) because it was so all encompassing and affected every part of each others lives. They did horrible things to each other but I don't believe that they ever hated each other.
A big theme in this novel is the idea of duty. This is widely seen in Asian cultures but I think the author Tan Twan Eng takes it to the extreme in this case. Duty towards family is the most important thing and I saw from the very beginning why Philip Hutton did what he did but I was almost at the final pages when I really saw the reasons behind Endo-San's actions.
I loved this book because it appealed to all of my senses. When the author described taken the boat from Penang to Kuala Lumpur I felt if i was there. I could see the huge beetles and feel the mist on my arms. The Malaysian/Chinese food that was described were things that I had eaten and loved. I also enjoyed the stories about the Chinese and Japanese forms of martial arts and the training that Endo-San and Philips grandfather had went through.
The story is sad. Many people die in this book but I do believe that when you finish it leaves you with a sense of peace. This book made me want to travel back to Asia and see all the countries that I missed out on the first time around - Especially Malaysia!