Here’s Gail, one week on …


Michael, you’ll be so proud … so far so good!  Zoom in to the photo; Gail has company.  Lets remind ourselves what she looked like a week ago today when I bought her.


When daughter arrived home last Friday night, her squeals of delight at Gail’s dimensions were soon followed by her thundering up the stairs and moments later returning with a tiny buddha; one she had been given by a returning travelling cousin from Cambodia some eight years before.

I wasn’t sure what to be more impressed by – her memory of its existence and suggestion it sit under the tree beautifully completing the zen vibe, or her being able to find such a small item in her room after such a long time, as I can rarely find my purse from the day before.

So I finally finished Gail Tsukiyama‘s beautiful tale of Stephan-san, Matsu-san and Sachi.  The relationships between all three were described so eloquently and with life that I could picture each one at any time, and feel their pains, sorrow or elation and hopes. There is much reference to buddhism and zen gardens, yet I don’t recall reading either of those words in the manuscript once.   But I recognised Sachi’s raking of mini pebbles, built for her by Matsu some years earlier, as living proof that the idea of zen gardens providing solace from a troubled mind.

Her own story (as I first saw it – tragic) helps us to see that while beauty in youth brings about its own surface rewards, the psychological journey she was forced to take over the next 30-40 years helped her to understand beauty within.  While author Gail gave no exacting details about Sachi and Matsu’s personal relationship behind closed doors, it is my belief (and wish, so don’t burst my bubble) that they have in fact been sharing each other for a very long time, alongside huge mutual respect and friendship.

A nearby shrine is visited throughout the season and Stephen learns a lot from his ward about life along the way, such as during this conversation below following a rare altercation between Matsu and his lifelong, but more shallow, friend Kenzo.  The lesson Matsu imparts is the simple message that we should look after our own mental health and allow others around us to find and nurture their own and if a friendship is a healthy two-way valve, it should be able to recover from any disagreement.


Matsu’s quiet understanding of Stephen’s twenty year old life comprehension tells me that he has been more than just a housekeeper for the main family.  Matsu has maintained the house and garden of Stephen’s father and grandfather with meticulous care and loving nurture, but he also made it his home.   Initially Stephen could not understand Matsu’s solitary choice of lifestyle when he might have, when younger, chosen to follow others into the cities for high paid jobs and life opportunities.  By the end of his recuperation year in Tarumi which helped his tuberculosis suffering, Stephen totally grasped the wellbeing which is so in situ within Matsu and was loathe to leave the place himself.   Historic events, his own family, society’s expectations and prejudices against his chinese origin mean he had to leave and face his own hurdles … how good would it be to read a sequel?  I must google the possibility.

You can tell I enjoyed this book and again I thank Joseph Beech for the suggestion.  I wonder how he’s enjoying it, if he’s had the time to progress further through its pages whilst entertaining siblings!  Ortensia has also been reading and enjoying this book and its been fun to share the journey.

Don’t laugh, but I ordered a second bonsai.  What shall I name this one?