Barbara Jefferson, a young American teaching in Tokyo in the 1960s, is set on a life-changing quest when her Japanese surrogate mother, Michi, dies, leaving her a tansu of homemade plum wines wrapped in rice paper. Within the papers Barbara discovers writings in Japanese calligraphy that comprise a startling personal narrative. With the help of her translator, Seiji Okada, Barbara begins to unravel the mysteries of Michi's life, a story that begins in the early twentieth century and continues through World War II and its aftermath.
As Barbara and Seiji translate the plum wine papers they form an intimate bond, with Michi a ghostly third in what becomes an increasingly uneasy triangle. Barbara is deeply affected by the revelation that Michi and Seiji are hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, and even harder for her to understand are the devastating psychological effects wrought by war. Plum Wine examines human relationships, cultural differences, and the irreparable consequences of war in a story that is both original and timeless.
A Notable Fiction Book of 2007, selected by the Kiriyama Prize Committee
Winner, Fiction Award, Southern Independent Bookstore Alliance
Notable Fiction, Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize, for contribution to East-West understanding
A heartrending story of love and loss… Masterful.
A wonderfully romantic and well-composed novel… With such simple, stark, and lovely prose, Davis-Gardner turns this trip back to Japan back to the 1960s into a believable excursion into the deep heart of a good woman and her decent but damaged foreign friends, and into the minefield of questions that linger in American military strategy and foreign policy having to do with the use of nuclear weapons.
Thus a novel that starts out in a postmortem mood opens itself, and the sensitive reader, to life rather than death.
Alan Chease, NPR and Chicago Tribune
Davis-Gardner’s exceptionally sensitive and enveloping novel illuminates with quiet intensity, psychological suspense, and narrative grace the obdurate divide between cultures, the collision between love and war, and, most piercingly, the horrific legacy of Hiroshima. But Davis-Gardner’s ravishing tale also celebrates the solace of stories, and the transcendent bonds people form under the cruelest of circumstances.
Booklist (Starred review)
Enthralling…Perfectly rendered…Davis-Gardner handles the Japanese mores of the time expertly, and the dialogue spoken by non-native English speakers is pitch-perfect. She quietly wows with this third novel, which features a wonderfully inventive plot and a protagonist as self-possessed as she is sensitive.
Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
Beautiful and painful in equal measure…As a writer, Davis-Gardner has a light hand, leaving the reader to feel as though they are living the story, unconscious of the artistry involved in the telling.