four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
By: 
Tan Twan Eng
user_rating: 
0

A-The Gift of RainTan Twan Eng’s ambitious and sprawling debut novel, which was long-listed for Britain’s Booker Prize, draws on the author’s native Malaysia as the world prepares for war.

The Story: In 1939, 16-year-old Philip Hutton is "a child between two worlds, belonging to neither." The son of a successful British businessman and a Chinese woman, who is now deceased, he seeks identity on his native Panang, a Malaysian island that will inevitably be invaded by the Japanese in the coming war. Befriended by Endo, a Japanese diplomat who has rented a small island from Philip’s father, Philip learns lessons in Zen Buddhism and aikido. But Endo isn’t as he seems, and his protégé is forced to deal with betrayal—and make decisions that will forever affect those around him. Narrated by Philip half a century later, The Gift of Rain examines the role of memory in a world where, as Philip admits, "No one escapes history."
Weinstein Books. 448 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1602860246

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Eng’s writing is luminous and dreamy. … This is a grandly old-fashioned book in its scope and lushness, in its lack of irony, in its preoccupation with loyalty and duty and the moral quicksand to which they sometimes lead." Donna Marchetti

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Beautifully written and deeply moving, Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel is one of the best books I’ve ever read. … Anyone who thinks the novel is in decline should read this one." Frank Wilson

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"This deft first novel by Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng stands as a lavish demonstration of the truth of William Faulkner’s dictum, ‘The past is never dead … It’s not even past.’ … How the war he fights within himself plays out against the backdrop of the war spreading across South Asia makes the book an engrossing story of interlocking worlds." Alan Cheuse

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Eng is unraveling a true saga here, writing in great detail about the historical milieu that his fictional characters inhabit. … Eng is a vivid writer in love with the descriptive power of strong similes, even ones that seem a bit overstated." Tom Horgen

Hartford Courant 3 of 5 Stars
"Tan Twan Eng has written a most ambitious first novel, a wide-ranging epic about war and inner peace, love and betrayal and the clash between East and West—all seasoned with dramatic action and not a few martial arts donnybrooks that would make Jackie Chan envious. … If Eng’s first opus has a flaw, it is that the characters and dialogue can be lyric, dramatic or purposeful to the point of being stilted." David Holahan

Critical Summary

That Tan Twan Eng’s first book raised enough eyebrows in Britain to be considered for a Booker Prize should indicate the author’s budding talent. Indeed, reviews were strong across the board, and even the critics who took issue with aspects of Eng’s style that may occasionally come across as overdone—dialogue and some description, for instance—recognized that Eng’s voice and vision make a big first impression. Philip’s often dispassionate telling of his wartime activities bothered one critic, but most felt that he convincingly grappled with his decisions. Despite these minor flaws, A Gift of Rain is storytelling in the grand tradition, one of those rare books with heart and brain that revels in the history it relates and develops memorable characters with care and compassion.