The Samurai’s Garden Book Review

In some ways I can’t help thinking my time in Tarumi will be a quiet resembling death. At least the sea breezes are much more soothing than the hot, humid heat of Hong Kong.

–pg 4

The Samurai’s Garden by Gale Tsukiyama

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, on a summer day as wonderfully sunny as today. I have to say, I really liked this book. It began slowly and continued at the same ambling pace, revealing to me the touching story of Matsu, Sachi and Kenzo.

The story is narrated by seventeen year old Stephen, a Chinese boy who is sent to Tarumi, Japan, by his father to recuperate from tuberculosis. He leaves right before the Japanese invasion of China during WWII. In Tarumi, Stephen stays at his family’s summer home, where the garden/house keeper, Matsu, opens up a world that Stephen had no idea existed. And so unfolds Matsu’s quiet and dramatic tale of unrequited love, of friendship, and of learning to come to terms with who you are. While in Tarumi, Stephen too has his own little love story, but it is Matsu’s that made me keep reading.

One thing I especially liked about this book was how honestly Tsukiyama was able to capture people. Most authors tend to follow certain stereotypes, even if they don’t realize it themselves. In the Samurai’s Garden, Matsu is quiet and strong and he follows true to his character all the way through the story. It bothers me when characters have a totally random change in attitude. Matsu was like a flower, slow to bloom, opening up quietly and giving off joy when he finally did. Sachi, a once beautiful woman with leprosy, was vain when she was young, and thus understandably angry when she first found out that she had a disease that would take her beauty away from her. And she didn’t come to terms with it very quickly; writers often make the mistake of people quickly getting over things that would haunt real people for years. It isn’t until Sachi is an old woman does she finally gain the wisdom to make her own happiness.

I love it when a book has characters like that– that act like real people would and stay true to who they are all the way through. It makes a story seem much more realistic and it makes immersion into the book easy.

The writing of this story is soft and lyrical, with descriptions that are vivid yet easily digested. It follows a path that has been taken by many love stories, however, Tsukiyama gives it a twist and flavors it well with the culture of Japan and the simple life led by the inhabitants of Tarumi.

The book is slow, but that’s what it is meant to be. There aren’t any action scenes and nothing huge happens. It is one of those books where the characters just about their daily lives, and yet they are inexplicably interesting to read about.

If you have ever read Memoirs of a Geisha and enjoyed it, then I’m willing to bet you’d like this book to. Both are well-written and give a glimpse into a fascinating world. The Samurai’s Garden has definitely opened up the world of Tsukiyama’s writing and I am eager to read more of her books in hopes that they will be just as enjoyable as this one.

Ri’s Rating:




0. Couldn’t get past chapter one for fear of wanting to kill myself. Book induced suicide…

1: Yuck. Ew. Below Average. Probably didn’t even read the middle and skipped to the end.

2. Ok. Would’ve been better if I’d written the ending and everything else.

3. Not bad at all. Very enjoyable. Quite nice. Recommendable.

4. My kind of book. Near ideal, but something was a little off (annoying names, bad ending, that sort of thing).

5. WOW. Makes me wonder why people watch T.V when this is out there. Really liked it. Don’t expect to see this often.

6 and above. What I want my book to be.

Leave a comment


  1. ariana

     /  December 10, 2011

    I rate this 1…. the pace was too slow, and my interest faded fast

    • Thanks for sharing! Perhaps you can dig around on the reviews page and find something more suited to your tastes :)


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