cover image The Blossom Festival

The Blossom Festival

Lawrence Coates. University of Nevada Press, $20 (344pp) ISBN 978-0-87417-337-6

California's Santa Clara Valley has become known as Silicon Valley, a transformation that debut novelist Coates implicitly contrasts by setting his tale in the orchard-strewn, pastoral community during the years between the two world wars. The plot meanders across decades and weaves many family sagas together. Harold Madison was abandoned by his father as a child, and he in turn abandons his girlfriend, Betsy Moreberg, when she becomes pregnant. Betsy is forced to give up her son, Peter, but 11 years later reunites with him. Peter's story soon meshes with that of classmates Albin and Olivia Roberts, and with Fumiko Yamamoto, the nisei daughter of an immigrant Japanese family. Their lives colorfully described, these Valley-dwellers cherish their cherry and pear orchards, bake scrumptious homemade pies and don't ""spare the rod"" in child-rearing. The last few chapters depict the ""blossom festival"" of the title, as townsfolk gather for the event that was observed annually between 1900 and 1941. This celebration of spring--featuring sack races, children's pageants, pseudo-freak shows, barbecued rabbit and kite-flying contests--is destined to be one of the last, though the characters don't know that. Especially poignant are the scenes tracing Fumiko and her family's attempts to assimilate, as readers foresee the WWII internment camps that await them. Meanwhile, Coates describes the bigotry Fumiko suffers as her friends try to sneak her into the festival and protect her from racist thugs. Two tender love stories develop, between Fumiko and Albin and between Peter and Olivia, indicating the hope each spring brings. This quietly old-fashioned novel occasionally stumbles on its nostalgic reverie, but its essence is bittersweet: that even a paradisical land is marked by the human hopes and hatreds that reverberate long after the orchards are replaced by corporate parks. (Sept.)