Phillip Hutton is an old man still living in his childhood home. He is half English, half Chinese, and brought up on the Malay island of Penang. He lived through the horrors of the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. The memories have always been present, but they burst back to life when his former aikido teacher’s (and Japanese diplomat) former lover wants to know about the olden days. The name of the book; The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng, is somehow so poetic.
A confused young Phillip grew up on the island feeling like he did not really belong. He loved his English and Chinese families, and admired and respected his teacher, Endo-san. His loyalties were tested during the harsh occupation, and many lost faith in him. Phillip ended up aiding the Japanese by giving his master information, which of course was not taken lightly by the locals.
It is a beautiful, albeit tragic tale. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book, and simply wanted to keep on reading until the end. At some point I felt like the dialogue got a bit stilted and the focus of the book drifted from time to time. My favourite part is most likely the intense and strong relationship between the boy and his teacher. It is beautiful in many ways, yet at the same time an older man, using a younger boy to get the information he needs is so harsh.
When family members turn their back on you, but you stand your ground, that takes a lot of guts. Living on an island where you cannot really run away, makes life complicated for someone who has been seen as a traitor. Wartime and living under the rule of others during occupation would make anyone’s life hard, but being in between everything, everyone, every culture, like Phillip is more than most could bare.
I understand that many readers find the relationship between the master and his student as erotic as times, but I chose to see beyond that. An intense relationship like theirs surely has some homoerotic vibes, but it is so much deeper that only the two people involved can understand it. In many ways, it is like any marriage or relationship between two people. Do we really know what is going on between these two persons? Do we really have to label something like that? I am sure everyone knows the power that someone else can have over you.
The Gift of Rain, the name of the book, I guess that it is a positive way of thinking about the weather on the island; monsoons ten months of the year, which means it is pretty much always raining. Although, Phillip says in the book; “I was born with the gift of rain”. There are many descriptive passages in the book, and I feel like this is definitely one of those books you can easily say that no two readers read the same book.