Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
I remember seeing this beautiful book cover and title sometime last year and being completely captivated by it. The steel grey and the blush of pink felt so timeless and I thought, oh wow, this looks like it’ll be an epic and lovely read. Also it’s a Good Morning America book club pick and a NY Times bestseller! I have to give a huge thanks to Dutton Books for sending me a free copy of this gorgeous book! I received it sometime in September last year and I finally got around to reading it. I also kinda knew that I wanted to feature it on my blog for either Black History Month or for Women’s History Month seeing as the author is black and also a woman. Yay for all the female authors out there! Happy Women’s History Month! On to the plot & review!
The setting is Kyoto, Japan. As well as Tokyo, Paris, and London.
It is 1948 - "If a woman knows nothing else, she should know how to be silent. . . . Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist." This is eight year old’s Noriko “Nori” Kamiza’s first lesson. Nori doesn’t question why her mother abandoned her with only these final words. She will not fight her confinement to the attic of her grandparents’ imperial estate, and she will not resist the scalding medical baths she receives each day to lighten her shameful skin.
Nori is an outsider from birth. She is an illegitimate child of a Japanese aristocrat and her African American GI lover. Even though Nori’s grandparents take her in, they only do so to conceal her and hide and in fear of her stain on the royal pedigree that they are desperate to uphold in a changing Japan. Obedient as ever, Nori accepts her solitary life with very little complaints despite her natural curiosity for the world outside her four walls. Soon after, we meet Akira - who’s next in line for the inheritance of the estate. Akira is Nori’s legitimate older half brother and soon after his arrival, Nori finds that Akira is the only person who has ever allowed her to question anything and the siblings form an unlikely but powerful bond - a bond their formidable grandparents will not allow and that will irrevocably change the lives they were always meant to lead. Now that Nori has glimpsed a world in which there may be a place for her, she is now ready to fight and be a part of it - and this battle just might cost her everything.
Spanning many decades and continents, Fifty Words for Rain is a dazzling story about the ties that bind, ties that give you strength and what it means to be free.
Wow. This book definitely lives up to the cover and title. What an epic, rollercoaster and emotional read! An incredible debut from Asha Lemmie I must say.
From the very first page, you are completely gripped into Nori’s story and the journey that Lemmie takes us on. Let’s talk about all the bajillion themes going on in this book. How about we start with the title of this read. Fifty Words for Rain. What a beautiful title. I read somewhere and I seriously cannot remember where, that Lemmie chose this title because in Japan, there is an idiom that there are fifty words to describe rain because it rains so damn much there. I also personally thought that the title of the book also touch on the many themes and struggles that Nori faces in this book. And there are a LOT of struggles. Oh boy. Wonderful title.
This is one of those epic proper story books. It’s a coming-of-age story and it spans many decades. I liked the setting of the book quite a lot - mostly set in Kyoto, Japan. Lemmie chose to set the book post WWII in Japan. Which you never often hear about, well not from the Japanese’ perspectives. I love books that cover areas in which you rarely hear about. This book really reminded me of “The Mountains Sing’ by Nguyen Phan Que Mai. It had similar themes, both spanning decades, both heavily centered around family, both are coming-of-age stories, and both tell stories from perspectives you rarely hear from. I have to respect Lemmie for writing a story of this particular time setting. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan and I have a lot of friends who are from here so this book definitely made me want to visit Japan. I also liked the symbolism of the trees throughout the book and how it was always a comfort to Nori.
Even though this book was quite a big book, the writing itself was very gripping and easy to read. It was a massive page turner and you find yourself completely immersed in it. This is the kind of book that you would read in a few sittings simply because it kept you gripped all the way through! I have to say that if it wasn’t for this strong feature, I probably would have lost interest somewhere in the middle of the book! So I do have to give it to Lemmie for keeping my attention in this family saga.
Let's talk about the characters. We have Nori, who was basically an unwanted bi-racial child. We grow up with her from a very young age up until adulthood. It was a total coming-of-age book through and through. I felt like you got to know how Nori’s brain works, where her low self-esteem stems from, her enormous difficulties, I mean she had a tough and pretty intense life in this book! Then we have Akira, her older half brother. Nori completely idolizes Akira, it was kind of both sweet and sickening at the same time. It’s strange I wanted to root for Nori in this book but at times she really annoyed me. I had a love hate relationship with her for sure. But Akira on the other hand I thought, was a great character. Simple, but also extremely dependable, honest and set in his ways. Their relationship in this book was intense and so raw. Definitely great character developments in this read.
Now for the slight negatives about this book. Part of me felt like this book almost felt like you were watching a soap opera. It was very dramatic and sweeping at times but in an almost corny and intense way. I definitely think that this is one of those books where people will either really love it, or seriously roll their eyes to the back of their heads and hate it. Complete 50/50 type of read. All I will say is that if you’re a family saga, historical fiction, epic read king of reader, then you will love this book. I have to respect the amount of work that went into this read, as well as the gripping writing, the many many themes throughout the story. I did like the difficult racial and family struggles, as well as the adventurous and ambitious storytelling that Lemmie gave us in this book. Hence my 8/10 rating.
Fifty Words for Rain was an epic, sweeping and heart-rending story. A gripping historical fiction read that spans decades and that keeps you wanting to read more and more. With the changing backdrop of post WWII, Lemmie brings to us issues such as race, familial traditions & duties, big life decisions, struggles, self reflection & identity, loss and grief, as well as finding hope. If you loved ‘The Mountains Sing’ then you will love this book. If you love epic, decade spanning and heart-rending reads then you will also love this book.
I knew that I wanted quite an emotional and melancholy song. Something moving and atmospheric. Also a song that felt classical seeing as that was a strong feature of the book as well. I chose 'Clown' by the incredible Emile Sande. Incredible voice. To me, this song feels like it’s about the struggles that Nori faces, and the lack of respect she gets from practically everyone in this book. She's always having to prove herself. This song felt quite sad and it fit the story well in my opinion. An epic ballad for an epic book. You should definitely listen to this amazing ballad, click here to do so. It’s a beautiful song.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 449 Pages
Publication Date: September 1, 2020