Posted by: Jeanie F | March 15, 2016

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover


The Japanese Lover is the latest novel by the powerhouse Chilean novelist, Isabel Allende – but there’s a catch. Credit is given to two separate translators –  Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson – and, if I choose to be as generous as possible, a great deal may be lost in the translation. This is certainly not a book that in any way resembles the writing of Island Beneath the Sea or The House of the Spirits.

This book is an amalgam of all the historic events of the 20th Century, placed against the backdrop of a relationship that develops between an elderly woman and her young Romanian caregiver. It purports to be a love story, but wait – it purports to be a historical novel, but wait – it purports to be a family saga . . . Frankly, I don’t know what the heck it is supposed to be but it includes, among other things:

  • the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, followed by the internment of Japanese Americans
  • the Nazi invasion of Poland, followed by the internment of Jews into concentration camps
  • the difficulties of interracial love
  • spunky old people and young refugees
  • the sex trade/sex trafficking
  • homeless pets

And that is just the first half of the book.

The writing is flat, the dialogue (what there is of it) is stilted, the characters and situations stereotypical.

Having said this, 51% of the readers on gave it four or five stars; 8,000 readers on GoodReads gave it four or five stars, so maybe it’s just me. I say save your $12.99 ($8.44 in paperback) for infinitely more satisfying cappuccinos at Starbucks.

Grade: D- (seriously, if I could stand to give Isabel Allende a lower grade, I would)




  1. I completely agree, and I love Isabel Allende, at least most of her books. I found the characters unlikable, the story dragged, and I wasn’t engaged by either love story. I reread The House of the Spirits just to remind myself how good Allende is.

    • I love her, too. This was such a disappointment! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Disappointing. I love Allende, but haven’t read anything by her for a long time.

    • If you decide to read it, let me know what you think. As I said, most people liked it.

  3. I agree. She could have eliminated “Saint” Irina and that whole thread. Read like a movie script. I have not read her in years but it was suggested by a perceptive friend. I have to call her for her take. Readable but basically dopey.

    • This was puzzling – it wasn’t like anything of hers that I’ve ever read before. I do wonder why two translators, and whether that had anything to do with the dull, lifeless voice. I’d be interested to hear what your friend thought of it.

  4. I’ll trust your advice, although Janice might Have To read it because of the author!

    • If she reads it, I’ll be interested to hear what she thinks. As is mentioned, there were a LOT of people who loved this book!

  5. amazing book

    • I’m glad you liked it. The consensus in my book club was mixed, but more positive than negative, so maybe I missed something others got!

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