The Samurai's Garden is the second novel by Gail Tsukiyama and widely considered her finest and most mature novel to date. Set against the historical reality of the Japanese invasion of China in the years leading to the outbreak of World War II, it is quiet and moving tale learning how to overcome the worst that can life can throw at you. That worst is here represented not just by the invading armies of one nation into another, but a battle to recover from tuberculosis and practically an entire village population forced to deal with the effects of leprosy.
Told in the form of a private diary with sections separated by seasons, the most pervasive theme running throughout the narrative is the means by which people learn to deal with isolation and alienation from others. The historical context of the war between China and Japan serve to create the space in which the titular gardens are allowed to expand into symbolic archetypes of escape and beauty pitted against the ugliness of the world beyond one’ ability to control, tend and nurture.
Though well received for the most part with reviewers almost universally in agreement on the quality of the story, a small but unified minority were also in agreement that the narrative would have been all the more powerful if told in a more engaging manner or through a most distinct perspective. The epistolary structure was singled out by more than a few as the novel’s single greatest weakness. The stylistic criticism directed toward the mode of storytelling in The Samurai’s Garden would become a recurring motif of the harsher side of judgments directed toward subsequent works published by Gail Tsukiyama.