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From American West to Japan


It’s time for this month’s chain of reading, set off by Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation, in which we are invited to build a reading list of 6 books that bear some form of connection to the one before them in the chain – be it author, theme, style, location, title, era, language, ….. – starting from a book suggested by Kate.

This month, we are going to journey our way around the world, from the American West to Japan, via the Yorkshire Moors, Greece and Surrey. This reading journey was triggered by Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, the starter book set by Kate, a 1955 children’s novel that is the first of the series featuring Ramona Quimby and her sister Beatrice.

Picking up on the sibling theme from Beezus and Ramona, let’s head off to 19th-century American West, and join two newly orphaned siblings, Lucy and Sam, in How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang.

This engrossing adventure has us following the difficult family life of Chinese immigrants during the gold rush. It’s hard to stop turning those pages as we follow the children after the loss of their parents. Gambling dens, dusty towns, rotting bodies, and arid scenery set the scene, while Zhang also addresses topics of immigrant life, poverty, Chinese culture and language, sexual identity, transition from childhood to adulthood. It is an epic first novel, winner several awards, longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020 and one of Barack Obama’s favourite books of 2020. And more than that, it is one of my favourite reads.

Next, we’ll meet another two siblings as we join the Sisters by Daisy Johnson, out on the Yorkshire Moors.

Older sister September has a fierce hold over July in this intriguing gothic thriller. It is beautifully written, leading us through an intricate psychological tale of two teenagers. Some unspoken horror has brought the family in semi-hiding to a house on the Yorkshire coast, but the reader is never quite sure how real or deep the horror is. Keep reading to find out! I highly recommend this great second novel by Johnson.

Next, we are going to fill in the gap in the months left by July and September, and head off to Plaka and Spinalonga for One August Night by Victoria Hislop.

This novel is the sequel to the multi-million-copy bestseller, The Island, which I couldn’t resist rereading before moving onto One August Night. I didn’t enjoy the sequel as much as the first novel, but it fills in some of the gaps left in what I always felt was quite a hurried end to The Island. Plus, I always enjoy Hislop’s works and I have very fond memories of a stay in Plaka a few decades ago and my own exploration of Spinalonga.
We should remember that although there is now a cure for leprosy, the illness still causes pain and isolation for many, with around 600 people diagnosed per day around the world. It is good to note that Hislop is now an ambassador for Lepra, in their fight to finally defeat this illness.

For this link in the chain, we’ll stick with the theme of leprosy and leper colonies, and jet across to Japan to read Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa.

I loved it! A beautifully written story, showing the painful history of leprosy, people’s fear of the illness, and the importance in life of friendship and never giving up. The story was as beautiful as the cherry blossom that also plays a role in these people’s lives.

Next, more blossom, as we turn to ‘Cherry’ Ingram : The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms by Naoko Abe.

This is the story of Collingwood Ingram, born in 1880, and known as ‘Cherry’ for his defining obsession with sakura, or cherry blossom. His repeat visits to Japan alerted him to the reduction in diversity of the cherry trees there, and he worked untiringly to return to Japan some of the then-missing varieties, including a white blossom he had in his own garden in England. A great read, revealing much about Japanese culture, not just horticulture. And it is also blessed with some great visuals, including some sketches from Ingram’s notebooks.

Fo your final book in this month’s chain, we’ll move to and fro between America and Japan in The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns.

This historical novel is a powerful and heartbreaking story of heart versus culture. A tale to enjoy, despite shedding a tear or two, whilst learning more about post-war history and the impositions imposed by cultural ties. A strong story with which to end my reading chain for this month.

I hope my chain of six pieces of fiction and non-fiction prompts a good read or two for you all in May.

Next month, we’ll be setting off from Scotland with The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld – a book that was already on my to read list so I’m very much looking forward to this and where it may lead us..

Note: My links this week are to Hive, an online bookseller that gives part of their takings to local booksellers, and you get to choose the bookshop you’d like to receive the benefit. I’m delighted that my local bookshop, Books on the Hill, is on the list, and have been happily supporting them in this way during lockdown.



Copyright Debbie Smyth, 4 May 2021

Posted as part of Six Degrees

15 replies »

  1. Hi Debbie: thanks for recommending Sweet Bean Paste – I’ve just finished it and loved it. However, I have noticed that you have not linked back to Kate’s post, or put yourself on Mr. Linky, so none of the other participants knows about you. Too late to put that right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Margaret. Some of my linkbacks refuse to show themselves in a different colour but I may well have forgotten. I’ll add them back in. Thanks Margaret.
      And glad you enjoyed Sweet Bean Paste.

      Liked by 1 person

    • And I didn’t know there was a movie!
      I might watch it – but not so close to reading the book. It would clash with my own view of the characters and setting


  2. A great list, Debbie….I’ve read the Hislop one, and Johns…but I have just picked up Sukegawa on Kindle and that’ll probably be as far as I get!


  3. Debbie, this is quite a list. ‘Six Degrees’ always ends up adding to my tottering pile of Books to be Read, but I want to add every single one of yours. Maybe I’ll begin with C Pam Zhang. Thanks (said she, bitterly – so much to read, so little time)

    Liked by 3 people

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