The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson [in Library Journal]
Multiple narratives swirl around Alma Belasco, a Polish teenager who escaped the Nazis in 1939 and arrived in San Francisco to share a privileged life with an indulgent aunt and uncle. Now 73, Alma is a favorite resident in a senior facility, devotedly looked after by her grandson Seth and her caretaker Irina. Alma begins to divulge careful details of her well-guarded past to the young pair, revealing five decades framed by a never-ending passion for her one true –albeit impossible – love.
Beyond the colorful cast of surprisingly diverse characters, Allende’s multigenerational saga seamlessly weaves in monumental headlines from the second half of the 20th century, from the Holocaust to the Japanese American prison camps, the French Resistance to postwar racism, the AIDS crisis to heinous child abuse, and more.
Verdict: Relative newbie-to-audio Joanna Gleason – no stranger to the spotlight with significant stage and film successes – mostly succeeds at voicing a broad range of ages, backgrounds, even ethnicities. That said, a few minutes of direction spent on pronunciation – Alma’s cat’s name is pronounced neh-koh for the Japanese word for cat, not knee-koh; the name Takao doesn’t rhyme with “cacao” – would have led to a more accurate performance.