Fifty Words for Rain (Lemmie)

Fifty Words for Rain 
Asha Lemmie, 2020
Penguin Publishing
464 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781524746360 


Summary
From debut author Asha Lemmie, a sweeping, heartrending coming-of-age novel about a young woman's quest for acceptance in post-World War II Japan.

Kyoto, Japan, 1948. "Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist."

Such is eight-year-old Noriko "Nori" Kamiza’s first lesson.

—She will not question why her mother abandoned her with only these final words.
—She will not fight her confinement to the attic of her grandparents’ imperial estate.
—She will not resist the scalding chemical baths she receives daily to lighten her skin.

The child of a married Japanese aristocrat and her African American GI lover, Nori is an outsider from birth. Her grandparents take her in, only to conceal her, fearful of a stain on the royal pedigree that they are desperate to uphold in a changing Japan.

Obedient to a fault, Nori accepts her solitary life, despite her natural intellect and curiosity.

But when chance brings her older half-brother, Akira, to the estate that is his inheritance and destiny, Nori finds in him an unlikely ally with whom she forms a powerful bond—a bond their formidable grandparents cannot allow and that will irrevocably change the lives they were always meant to lead.

Because now that Nori has glimpsed a world in which perhaps there is a place for her after all, she is ready to fight to be a part of it—a battle that just might cost her everything.

Spanning decades and continents, Fifty Words for Rain is a dazzling epic about the ties that bind, the ties that give you strength, and what it means to be free. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1995
Where—the State of Virginia, USA
Rasied—the State of Maryland
Education—B.A., Boston College
Currently—lives in New York City, New York


Asha Lemmie is an American author, who, from the early age of two developed a passionate interest in reading. By the time she was five, she was writing her own stories. Attending school in Washington, D.C., Lemmie was fortunate to be exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences.

After graduating from Boston College with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Lemmie relocated to New York City, where she worked in book publishing. Fifty Words for Rain is her first novel. (Adapted from the publisher.)



Book Reviews
[An] epic, twisty debut…. [A] few bewildering narrative choices…, but Lemmie keeps the reader guessing and ends with a staggering gut punch. Sometimes bleak, sometimes hopeful,… [this] heartbreaking story of familial obligations packs an emotional wallop.
Publishers Weekly


[A gripping historical tale that will transport readers through myriad emotions…. Lemmie intimately draws the readers into every aspect of Noriko’s complex story,… bringing us to anger, tears, and small pockets of joy. A truly ambitious and remarkable debut.
Booklist


[T]he majority of the novel propels Nori toward a grand moment of defying her grandmother, but in the final pages Lemmie pulls her punch…. A bold historical portrait of a woman overcoming oppression marred by inconsistent character development.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. What do you think the title "Fifty Words for Rain" means? What role does nature play in Nori’s life?

2. For Nori, watching Akira play the violin is captivating, and she wants to be able to make people feel that way too. Why do you think music has such a strong effect on Nori? Aside from, bringing her and Akira closer, what does playing the violin mean to Nori?

3. Have you previously read a World War II novel set in Japan? How does setting a story outside Europe change the way you think about this period? What are some of the lasting effects from the war that you see in the book?

4. Discuss Akira and Nori’s relationship. Despite the vastly different ways they are treated, they form a very powerful bond. Why do you think they are able to be close? How does their relationship change the course of their lives?

5. There are many examples of female relationships in the book. Look at how Nori interacts with her mother, her grandmother, Alice, Kiyomi, and Miyuki. How do these women’s relationships reflect and resist Japanese culture in the 1950s?

6. What does Nori learn from reading her mother’s diaries? How do you think this influences her own trajectory?

7. How does Nori transform throughout the book? In one regard, she moves from not fighting her confinement to resisting other people’s control over her life. What inspired those changes within her? Are those changes reflected in the rest of society?

8. This is a book about family, love, duty, and isolation. Do you see any parallels between the views in the book and those of today, especially about our attitudes toward women and other marginalized people?

9. What do you think Nori’s Obaasama (grandmother), Yuko, means when she says "Many, and none" in response to Nori’s question about whether she has any regrets?

10. Do you agree with Nori’s decision about her future? When considering what to do in your own life, how do you balance your desire for happiness, purpose, and sense of responsibility, whether it be to your family, friends, or society?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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