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The Samurai's Garden



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About The Author

Gail TsukiyamaGail Tsukiyama

Born to a Chinese mother and a Japanese father in San Francisco, Gail Tsukiyama now lives in El Cerrito, California. Her novels include Dreaming Water, Women of the Silk, The Language of Threads, and Night of Many Dreams.

photo: Kevin Horan

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Reading Group Gold

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu's generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu's soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.


How did you start writing?
As a teenager, I wrote mostly poetry. However, I did not start to think about writing as a career until college. I then got my Master's in writing.

Which authors do you love to read?
I like to read writers I can learn from. I often read Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, and Kaye Gibbons, to name a few. Recently I have been enjoying Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, Louis De Bemieres' I Correlli's Mandolin, and E. Annie Prouix's The Shipping News.

Has the culture you were raised in shaped your identity?
I'm both Chinese and Japanese, yet born in San Francisco and in many ways as American as apple pie. And yet being raised in the Chinese culture, I still adhere to many of the traditions and superstitions. When Chinese New Year comes along I'm still very careful about not saying any- thing negative, because it sets the mood for the whole year. All these Chinese traditions from my mother's side of the family are within me, and have somehow found expression through my books.

You enjoy traveling. Where have you been?
I have been to England, China, Italy, Germany, Egypt, Israel, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Greece, Japan, and France. When I was young, I often went with my mother to Hong Kong to visit my grandmother. Recently, I have been going to Europe once or twice a year-whenever I get a chance.

Do your travels influence your writing?
Various landscapes have definitely given me a lot of material for my writing. In my four novels, I have explored Asia as the background for my narratives. My childhood experiences of visiting Hong Kong play a large factor in my subconscious, and thus, it comes out in my writing. I would like to write a novel set in Europe, as I have been spending more and more time there.


1. The title of the novel obviously alludes to Matsu's garden, but to whom else could the title refer as a "Samurai"? Why?
2. The garden acts as a center or core of the novel. All three central characters (Stephen, Matsu, and Sachi) find some sense of comfort in tending the garden. What are some of the metaphors for the garden and how are they worked out in the novel?
3. Loneliness, solitude, and isolation are all themes that permeate the novel throughout. How do the three central characters' approaches to these feelings vary, resemble each other, and evolve?
4. It appears as though Stephen and Sachi are somehow juxtaposed. How is this connection represented and developed?
5. How is the politically turbulent time at which The Samurai's Garden takes place approached in the novel? Is it a strongly political novel or does the world of Tamuri somehow defy and avoid the political turmoil of the era?
6. How is Stephen and Keiko's relationship represented? Examine it in relation to the courtships of the past--Kenzo and Sachi, as well as Matsu and Sachi.
7. As the novel progresses, Stephen stops longing to return to his home and in fact dreads having to leave Tamuri. What provokes this change of heart? Also, how does this sentiment affect the ending of the novel?

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