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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Write softly and carry a little book club shtick

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor

 •  An evening with Gail Tsukiyama

The first "real-time" event of the Honolulu Advertiser Book Club:

Talk, reading, book-signing, light refreshments, commemorative gift

6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10, Atherton Hall, Hawai'i Public Radio, 738 Kaheka St., Suite 101 (across from Daiei store)

Free admission, but reservations required; space is limited

Hawai'i Public Radio box office: 955-8821

Books will not be sold at the event, so purchase books to be signed beforehand.

Book club basics

Here's how to get involved in the Honolulu Advertiser Book Club:

Membership: There is no formal membership. Just read the book and participate in the virtual discussion by sending in your comments and questions.

Our book: "The Samurai's Garden" by Gail Tsukiyama; St. Martin's Press, paper, $12.95

Reading period: Through Dec. 27

Next "discussion": Jan. 5

To participate in the discussion: Write Wanda Adams, Books Editor, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Fax: 525-8055. E-mail: bookclub@ honoluluadvertiser.com

Special event: Tsukiyama appearance (see above)

Listen: To the "Sandwich Islands Literary Circle" at 9:30 tonight, KHPR 88.1 FM, KKUA 90.7 FM Maui, KANO 91.1 FM Hilo; or hear the program online, starting tomorrow at the URL below.

If you have trouble finding the book: Please call Wanda Adams, 535-2412. We want to keep tabs on supply.

To experience the book club online.

Gail Tsukiyama has met faithfully with a cluster of writers over the past 15 years. She says that group gives her the same support and stimulation book club members appreciate in their gatherings.

"The principle is the same, only we read our own work," said Tsukiyama, author of the Advertiser Book Club selection, "The Samurai's Garden" (St. Martin's Press, paper, $12.95).

"I think the value is time set aside for the richness of words; you don't usually get that during your hectic days. I think more and more people are looking for that."

As a writer whose books have been been selected by book clubs, the Bay Area writer adds with a smile evident even through the phone line, "book club members are some of my favorite people."

Tsukiyama is returning to Hawai'i next month to visit family and to meet a new 'ohana — participants in the Honolulu Advertiser Book Club. She will give a talk and reading Dec. 10 at Hawaii Public Radio's Atherton Hall, home to the San program about books and writers.

Tsukiyama has met with book club members in larger settings — panel discussions and such — on a number of occasions. "It's probably the most stimulating, interesting experience a writer can have, to meet with a group that's read your books. They almost know your book better than you do; it's a little scary."

Sometimes, she says, readers see things in her books even she hasn't envisioned.

This doesn't bother her. "To write is very interesting," she said. "I think there are several layers of consciousness going into it. There's a consciousness of wanting to write a good story — your basic, on-the-surface story with strong characters. Yet things begin to happen beyond that."

The nah-nah sisterhood

The writing of "The Samurai's Garden" (1996) is an example. She chose the lead character and the setting — a young Chinese man spending a summer recovering from an illness at his family's summer home in Japan — because she wanted to distance herself a bit from her first book, "Women of the Silk" (1993). That was about Chinese women working in a silk factory and living in an almost nunnery-like enclave.

"I didn't want another female story. I didn't want to fall into the trap of writing only about women's subcultures, sisterhoods," she said.

The common theme in her work, she said, is people — not just women — who are isolated, set apart from the "normal" world (as in her current release, "Dreaming Water," about a woman dying of a rare disorder that causes premature aging).

"That has always interested me, people trying to persevere while living apart from society," she said.

In setting the book in Japan, she was also creating a way to learn a bit more about her "Japanese side," she said.

Tsukiyama's father was a Hawai'i-born Japanese American; her mother was Chinese, from Hong Kong. Though the family visited Hawai'i from time to time, they never traveled to Japan. Her influences as she grew up came primarily from her Chinese family; she visited her popo in Hong Kong and "it was a very dramatic change; to be in Hawai'i was not so dramatically different."

The first threads of "The Samurai's Garden" were woven very loosely from her Chinese connections: an uncle who had business interests in Japan just before World War II.

But Tsukiyama couldn't have predicted what would come of these ideas. "The more I learned, the more the book began to layer itself. Sometimes I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know sitting down (to write) that the garden would become a symbolic character. I didn't know that leprosy, the fire, the tsunami would be in it. Things just happen as your characters develop," she said.

So it isn't surprising that readers uncover their own layers, too, based on what they bring to the book, and the way that the characters develop in their imaginations.

Stalking the sequel

If interacting with readers is stimulating, it can also be tricky. Readers who love a book often beg for a sequel. Tsukiyama granted that wish once with "the Language of Threads" (1999), which reunited a number of the characters from the "Women of the Silk."

But in the case of "The Samurai's Garden," she is very clear that the book stands as the story of one

critical year in the character's life. "I never felt the need to go beyond that," she said. "It works because it's that one year; if you go beyond that, it breaks down." She's more inclined to write a prequel, to explore how some of the older characters came to be as they were, although she's making no promises about that, either.

"I've always kept in the back of my mind that it's up to me to pave my own road as a writer and not fall into the trap of writing the same book over and over again," she said. "I think your voice and your style of writing is what's important. If you can relate a story in the way that you have been doing, even if it's a different story than the one that went before, you can make that work for the reader, too."