cover image Fifty Words for Rain

Fifty Words for Rain

Asha Lemmie. Dutton, $26 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4636-0

Lemmie’s epic, twisty debut chronicles the life of Nori Kamiza, a half-Black girl born illegitimately into a noble Japanese family in 1940. After Nori’s mother abandons her at eight at her grandparents’ Kyoto estate, Nori endures two years hidden away in the attic, where she is beaten by her grandmother, Yuko, who values the family’s honor above all else. When Nori’s older half-brother, Akira, moves into the house, he takes her under his wing and grants her more freedom. Yuko resents Akira’s love for Nori and sends her, at 11, to live in a brothel and play the violin for customers. Two years later, Akira manages to get Nori back. In Kyoto, the siblings take in British cousins Alice and William, the former in Japan to avoid scandal. Years later, when tragedy strikes Nori again, she finds a home with Alice and her family in England. But just as she acclimates, Nori’s called back to Kyoto, where she learns some hard truths. Lemmie makes a few bewildering narrative choices (Nori is ice cold to a suitor who continues to adore her, and though she has the money to do so, doesn’t rescue a friend in the brothel), but she keeps the reader guessing and ends with a staggering gut punch. Sometimes bleak, sometimes hopeful, Lemmie’s heartbreaking story of familial obligations packs an emotional wallop. (Sept.)