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In 1903, a young Scotswoman named Mary Mackenzie sets sail for China to marry her betrothed, a military attachÉ in Peking. But soon after her arrival, Mary falls into an adulterous affair with a young Japanese nobleman, scandalizing the British community. Casting her out of the European community, her compatriots tear her away from her small daughter. A woman abandoned and In 1903, a young Scotswoman named Mary Mackenzie sets sail for China to marry her betrothed, a military attachÉ in Peking. But soon after her arrival, Mary falls into an adulterous affair with a young Japanese nobleman, scandalizing the British community. Casting her out of the European community, her compatriots tear her away from her small daughter. A woman abandoned and alone, Mary learns to survive over forty tumultuous years in Asia, including two world wars and the cataclysmic Tokyo earthquake of 1923.


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In 1903, a young Scotswoman named Mary Mackenzie sets sail for China to marry her betrothed, a military attachÉ in Peking. But soon after her arrival, Mary falls into an adulterous affair with a young Japanese nobleman, scandalizing the British community. Casting her out of the European community, her compatriots tear her away from her small daughter. A woman abandoned and In 1903, a young Scotswoman named Mary Mackenzie sets sail for China to marry her betrothed, a military attachÉ in Peking. But soon after her arrival, Mary falls into an adulterous affair with a young Japanese nobleman, scandalizing the British community. Casting her out of the European community, her compatriots tear her away from her small daughter. A woman abandoned and alone, Mary learns to survive over forty tumultuous years in Asia, including two world wars and the cataclysmic Tokyo earthquake of 1923.

30 review for The Ginger Tree [Audiobook] Recorded Books

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anne (On semi-hiatus)

    This is a story of a young Scottish woman, Mary MacKenzie, who moves to China to get married in the early 1900s. She tells us her story through diary entries and letters. The writing carries us from event to event in her life in a rather robotic way: this happened and then this happened and so on. The writing was very affectless which made me feel very distant from Mary and unengaged in her story. This made for quite tedious reading. Several times I felt like putting down this book, but thought This is a story of a young Scottish woman, Mary MacKenzie, who moves to China to get married in the early 1900s. She tells us her story through diary entries and letters. The writing carries us from event to event in her life in a rather robotic way: this happened and then this happened and so on. The writing was very affectless which made me feel very distant from Mary and unengaged in her story. This made for quite tedious reading. Several times I felt like putting down this book, but thought that it must get more interesting once we got to WW1 and WW11. I was wrong. The one good thing about this book is that I learned something about what it was like for European women to live in China and Japan in the early 1900s. 2 1/2 stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    NO SPOILERS Finished: Having completed the whole book I now feel it was simply amazing. Why? It never felt like fiction. Never. I have a hard time believing it is not based on some person the author knew...... Mary, who she was when she travelled to marry Richard and who she became living alone in the Orient, was perfectly rendered. This is not a long book. Only the essentials are related, but that which is depicted is done with care and wonderful prose. That which the author has chosen to tell u NO SPOILERS Finished: Having completed the whole book I now feel it was simply amazing. Why? It never felt like fiction. Never. I have a hard time believing it is not based on some person the author knew...... Mary, who she was when she travelled to marry Richard and who she became living alone in the Orient, was perfectly rendered. This is not a long book. Only the essentials are related, but that which is depicted is done with care and wonderful prose. That which the author has chosen to tell us and that which is hopped over has the effect of making the story utterly believable. If you were to tell of your life wouldn't you too edit out the less significant bits. What is significant can be something so ordinary as a particular mornig dew you felt on your skin. It is the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the unusal that is wonderfully balanced. The author's depiction of a tidal wave was for me something I will never forget. You see tidal waves and earthquakes and fires and the individuals living through these natural calamities. You see the Russo-Japanese War, WW1 and WW2. Particularly the Russo-Japanese war is described in detail - through characters for whom you care. You visit Tokyo, Yokohama, Nikko. What is delivered is not a touristic description but the undercurrent of life in these places at a given time. And thirdly the author's portrayal of the Japanese is stupendous. Through page 228:I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the book. Once Mary has escaped to Japan there isn't a sentence that you don't want to suck on and savour. It isn't that it was boring before, in China, but you primarily got the European life style in Peking. The author Oswald Wynd was born in Tokyo to Scottish missionaries. He spent much of his youth in Tokyo. He knows these people, and his writing shows this. You get under their skin. I have only visited Japan, but immediately I recognize certain Japanese traits. Always the writing style is humorous, never dry or dusty. Here is an example from page 228. She has been emitted into a hospital since she has pneumonia: "I didn't care if I had a private place or not, all I wanted was a bed, and I got that, in a ward mostly of post-operative patients not one of whom, in the whole time I was there, disgraced herself by giving the slightest sign of pain endured. Japanese women bring so many admirable qualities to the process of being alive that I can understand Aiko's frustration at not being able to ship them up into concerted action against their much less admirable males." I will not tell you about Aiko. You will have to read the book to meet her! One more point that I must emphasize. I have turned back to see if there is any note telling me that this is not fiction. I keep thinking this must be based on a true person. It feels utterly REAL. What Mary says feels true given who she is. What she experiences, although very shocking at points, never feels imaginary. Absolutely never. This is remarkable! Through page 170: I am loving it again!!! She is living in Japan. I will not say why. The description of Japanese life, culture and ways is marvelous. The Russian Japanese War in Manchuria is over, and I have forgotten to mention that these historical elements have been interwoven into the story. In China Mary was confined to the British foreign community, thus you learned less about Chinese life, and instead about the Europeans living in Peking. Currently she is resinding a little outside Tokyo. Not only do you get the culture but also the history of that time. I am thoroughly enjoying this again. The facts are never dry! Some of her friends are amazing and fun and daring. It is the Japanese culture that interests me. I recognize so much! Through page 127: Here are two quotes, page 82 then 105: "Wicked Marie, after seeing Edith-who is very thin- arrive at a dinner party in a brown-grey evening dress made like a tube said it was like watching a very big earthworm come in from the garden. I must find out what Marie says about me behind my back, and I am sure Edith will be most willing to tell me." "I am a fool to have written to Mama as thought she was a friend, not Mama. It is as if I have forgotten in half a year, what she is really like and how she has always lived. Fortunately, as usual the post came after Richard had gone to the Legation. He reads all letter that come to me, as a husband's right. But he will not read this one. I set a match to it and watch it burn in the empty drawing-room stove. In future I will always be the dutiful daughter and write to Mama about the weather and what a lovely weekend we had at the Italian Legation. Perhaps it is as well that I have been checked in this way, because if I had not Mama might soon have been readingg between the lines that I do not find being married to Richard what I hoped for in coming to China. I was a fool there, too. Why do we have to make such terrible decisions for our whole lives when we are too young to know what we are doing? The big mistakes are hung around your neck and you have to wear them forever." The story is good but parts drag and I wish it were not just letters or diary notes. The form isn't my favorite, but what she writes can make you laugh. You never get to read the letter from her Mama. There is a naivity that kind of bugs me. I am happier when she is having a hard time and she is being brave and strong. Some bits have holes - she hardly talks about the birth of her first child. Or did I miss something?! This book is written from a woman's point of view, that is of a Scottish woman back in the early 1900s. Trough page 86: Something is happening - I am totally falling in love with Mary. Yes, times are not so rosy, neither with her husband, the marriage situation, nor being a foreigner in a strange environment. But she is made of hard stuff and is resilient and is forming friends with several people, one of which is a French woman, Marie. I laugh when Marie warns her not to learn Chinese! Why? Well b/c if you pronounce certain words incorectly the meaning of the word becomes very bad. In the French language this is true too, and I myself have seen very peculiar expressions on people's faces when I talk. So I am both laughing and commiserating with Mary. There is much I can relate to. I like the book very, very much. It is sad and horrible and yet very funny. Through page 57: It is so funny - you start another book and the way different author write hits you smack in the face. This isn't to say one is good and the other bad, it is just they are so diametrically opposed! You kind of feel a culture shock. If you have read a bit of the reviews for this book then you know that the main character, Mary Mackenzie, leaves Scotland to travel to Peking, China, in the year 1903 to marry her fiancé, Richard Collingsworth, a British attaché posted in Peking. This all takes place following the tempestuous Boxer Rebellion. She is young, naive, blue-eyed BUT she definitely has a head placed securely on her shoulders. She observes; she has opinions which she writes in her diary and letters. It is pretty clear she has the gumption to do what she wants to do. The first thing she does is clandestinely remove her corset from the prying eyes of her chaperone, Mrs. Carswell. The weather is HOT aboard the boat ride from Scotland to Shanghai. Reason wins over propriety! Back to the point, the writing style. The follwoing hopefully shows you what I mean: "Richard arrived in a carriage and though it was cold it was sunny, and we drove with the hood down and well wrapped up in a bearskin rug that was smelly, but warm. Richard was interested in all the sights where battles had been fought for the control of Tienstin during the Boxer Troubles and we stopped on an iron bridge across a narrow river where the fighting had been very intense. What interested me was the river itself. I could scarcely see water between the sampans and small junks packed into it on which families were living out their lives. It was really a floating slum cutting across the the main shopping street of Tientsin in which there are many fine shops and buildings, these all restored for business again. I wonder where the people in the boats went to during the Boxer figthing, perhaps they just stayed where they were, hoping for no stray bullets. Mrs Brinkhill told me that I would soon get use to the poverty in China, but I haven't yet....." "I must give you my first impression of Peking. It was dusk when we went in rickshas from the station towards the walls and a huge gate in them. My ricksha and the ones behind carrying Richard and my luggage, had to slow down to make way for a camel. The camel had a big load on side packs and bells on its neck and it almost pushed past me on the ricksha as though to show that in China camels have priority over Europeans. I said the the camel: 'By all means go first,' and Richard called out that he hadn't heard what I said. I couldn't very well tell him that his finacée had started talking to camels." The writing is amusing and there is alot of description of the time and place. However I don't usually like epistolary writing, which is what this is. It does bother me a bit. Her naivity also is sometimes a bit TOO cute, but I think this will change when the English community starts ostracizing her behavior. I believe she will wisen up quickly. This will probably show in the writing. She isn't a push-over. Ughh, I hate copying these quotes, but I think it is very important for readers to see the style. So far, so good!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marija

    This is the kind of book that unfolds like a delectable seven-course meal. Not too rich and everything cooked to perfection. The characters are well-drawn, and sense of place is unforgettable. What I love about this book is how it shows opportunities and decisions conspire to shape one's life, but outside forces will intrude. We are never truly in control of our own lives. Natural disasters, political forces, and people we randomly meet will change our lives for good and bad. The plot of this bo This is the kind of book that unfolds like a delectable seven-course meal. Not too rich and everything cooked to perfection. The characters are well-drawn, and sense of place is unforgettable. What I love about this book is how it shows opportunities and decisions conspire to shape one's life, but outside forces will intrude. We are never truly in control of our own lives. Natural disasters, political forces, and people we randomly meet will change our lives for good and bad. The plot of this book is 100% credible, and the end is touching without being sentimental. It hits all the major themes: love, loss, war, and betrayal. This is the most satisfying book I've read since Laurens van der Post's "A Story Like the Wind."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    This is a slow-burning historical novel that follows Scottish Mary Mackenzie from 1903 when she is sailing half way round the world to marry Richard, a military attaché stationed in China, to 1941 when she is finally sailing back, evacuated from the Far East in the Second World War, having made some choices and gone through some life events that the young Mary of the opening chapters would never have foreseen. I found the first 100 pages slow going as there wasn’t much that hooked me emotionally This is a slow-burning historical novel that follows Scottish Mary Mackenzie from 1903 when she is sailing half way round the world to marry Richard, a military attaché stationed in China, to 1941 when she is finally sailing back, evacuated from the Far East in the Second World War, having made some choices and gone through some life events that the young Mary of the opening chapters would never have foreseen. I found the first 100 pages slow going as there wasn’t much that hooked me emotionally. But then things start to happen and perhaps the slowness of the first part is deliberate, to show the sterility of the life Mary was leading in China. As it went on, I really enjoyed it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Just arrived from USA trough BM. This is the story of a Scotswoman Mary MacKenzie who starts her saga by sailing in 1903 in order to get married to a military attache in Peking. However, she falls in love with a young Japanese nobleman and her adulterous case is very criticized by the British community in Peking. If you really want to know what happens next, you MUST read this book which is written as letters to her mother in Scotland.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kiwiflora

    This novel was first published way back in 1977, and has been reprinted several times so must be a popular story! This book was given to me to read by an elderly couple, her Japanese and he European. They were married in Japan some 47 years ago, such a mixed marriage being unusual for those days. They suggested I read this because it gives a lot of insight into Japanese society from around 1900 to WWII. Things of course started to change in Japan after the war, but prior to that very little chan This novel was first published way back in 1977, and has been reprinted several times so must be a popular story! This book was given to me to read by an elderly couple, her Japanese and he European. They were married in Japan some 47 years ago, such a mixed marriage being unusual for those days. They suggested I read this because it gives a lot of insight into Japanese society from around 1900 to WWII. Things of course started to change in Japan after the war, but prior to that very little changed. The story is narrated by way of a diary and letters by a young Scottish woman, Mary Mackenzie, who is sailing out to China to marry an army man she has decided to marry to get away from Scotland and the unexciting life she has there. The marriage of course is a disaster, despite a daughter being born, and Mary has a very brief affair with a Japanese career soldier, gets pregnant, is ostracised from the expat community in Shanghai and flees to Japan. She remains in Japan until 1942 when the book ends. Over the years Mary experiences all sorts of traumas and trials and ends up making a very good life for herself in Japan, becoming financially independent, which I imagine was a most unusual accomplishment for any woman of that time, let alone a European one in pre-war Japan. So the story is relatively trite, and the characters are fairly predictable, but the best thing about the book is the insight we get into pre-war Chinese and Japan society and how Europeans fitted in or didn't. I found it difficult to completely engage with this story, mainly due to its style of narration. Mary sends letters to her mother in Scotland and to a French woman whom she met when living in China. The rest of the story is via diary entries. So we have a very personal and intimate narration style, but I felt very detached from Mary and how her life was unfolding. I almost felt like an observer rather than a confidante of her. Nevertheless a good read which gives a good insight into a society and time most people would know little about.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    This is by far the most interesting book I have read this year. The joy of participating in a book club is that you are often introduced to a book you would not find on your own, and that was precisely the case with this 1977 novel. Written as the first-person account of a young woman travelling to Asia in 1903 to marry a Scottish military attaché, I was totally captivated by her story from the first page. It was very apparent, early on, that this was going to be a rough ride for our protagonist This is by far the most interesting book I have read this year. The joy of participating in a book club is that you are often introduced to a book you would not find on your own, and that was precisely the case with this 1977 novel. Written as the first-person account of a young woman travelling to Asia in 1903 to marry a Scottish military attaché, I was totally captivated by her story from the first page. It was very apparent, early on, that this was going to be a rough ride for our protagonist and the portents were certainly accurate. The magic of The Ginger Tree is that the reader is able to experience, and feel, so much through this one story: . . . . the awe of a young foreigner meeting the Empress of China for tea at the Imperial Palace; . . . . the disillusionment of a young bride regarding the state of her marriage; . . . . the challenges and shallowness of European society in Imperial China's diplomatic community; . . . . the strength it takes to walk away from everything with no one or nothing material to support you; . . . and so much more. If it sounds operatic, perhaps it is. But, I was totally entranced by the forty year journey we travel with this woman and her pragmatic and stoic approach to her life with virtually no family or support system to sustain her. I love novels about the restraints society places on women and how they struggle within them. This woman didn't whine. She didn't capitulate. And, she didn't compromise. This should be required reading for all young women. It is not a candy-coated tale of love and success; it is a starkly realistic story about life, love and survival. It is a wonderful book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    This has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for more than 10 years. I was attracted to it by the recommendations of others but put off by the fact that it is told in journal entries and some letters, which is generally not my favorite way to convey a story. However, in this case, I was pulled into Mary Mackenzie's world from the first few pages and stayed there. It's been a long time since I've read a book that kept calling me to sit down and read every moment but this one did just that This has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for more than 10 years. I was attracted to it by the recommendations of others but put off by the fact that it is told in journal entries and some letters, which is generally not my favorite way to convey a story. However, in this case, I was pulled into Mary Mackenzie's world from the first few pages and stayed there. It's been a long time since I've read a book that kept calling me to sit down and read every moment but this one did just that. It is the story of Mary Mckenzie who leaves Scotland in 1903 to marry a military attache in Peking, China. She is a conventional girl with a curious mind who grows to be a savvy woman learning to survive through amazing circumstances. In the background is the history of the orient during the first half of the 20th century, particularly Japan as it rises to the status of a super power.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I’m so glad this book was chosen for book club. I can’t even begin to write my thoughts, but Mary’s fictional story still holds true for many things today. I couldn’t stop reading this book and loved every word.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tamhack

    This book covers quite of bit of early 19 century in the China/Japan from 1903 to 1942. It is written by a male Oswald Wynd but in a women's voice. He pulls much from his own background: His parents were from Scotland -the main protagonist, Mary Mackenzie; the author was born in 1913 in the foreigner's quarter of Tokoyo, Japan in 1913 while his father was working as a baptist missionary and spent most of his life in Japan--his protagonist spent most of her adult life in Japan and felt like it wa This book covers quite of bit of early 19 century in the China/Japan from 1903 to 1942. It is written by a male Oswald Wynd but in a women's voice. He pulls much from his own background: His parents were from Scotland -the main protagonist, Mary Mackenzie; the author was born in 1913 in the foreigner's quarter of Tokoyo, Japan in 1913 while his father was working as a baptist missionary and spent most of his life in Japan--his protagonist spent most of her adult life in Japan and felt like it was her home. He covers a bit of the Russo-Japanese War, the boxer rebellion, WWI and WWII. The book is written in Mary's voice through her journal and letters. She is trying to find herself and her place in a foreign country and in situations that she was not prepared for. Wynd paints a good picture of the people in china (where Mary goes first to meet her fiancé and marry) and landscape and also Japan's landscape and people. Mary was betrothed in Scotland to a man she only met briefly and then he was stationed in China. She voyage across the sea to China were she married him to find her husband distant and in a distant land. Mary had a girl. She met a Japanese soldier and then was abandoned by her husband when it was found out that she was pregnant again but it couldn't have been by husband. The husband took her daughter, Jane. She made her way to Japan where her lover took care of her until her son, Tomo was born and then he took the son because he was of Kurihama blood and she was left on her own again. She eventually started a dress shop to support herself. 26-"The island is called the Great Natuna and belongs to the Dutch. The Dutch seem to have a huge empire in these parts that stretches for thousands of miles and includes thousands of island, some very big like Sumatra. At school we always thought there was only one really big empire and that was our, on which the sun will never set. I was looking at the island with the silly idea in my mind that it would be nice to be queen of such a place and never leave it when suddenlyI remembered Mrs. Carswell being carried down the gangplank at Penang looking already dead. I shivered. Mrs. B came up behind me then and asked what was the matter? I told her what I been thinking about and she said something I will always remember; 'Child, you are traveling towards the lands of sudden death.' She told me about a huge flood in China near a place called Wuhan in which some say as many as two and a half million people drowned, which is half of all the people in Scotland. Many of the bodies came floating down river to near Shanghai where Mrs. B was at the time." 50- "It is not easy for a husband and wife to have interests together in Peking. Tennis is played here in the Quarter during the summer, but there are no winter activities such as as there used to be like skating outside the city walls and sometimes race meetings because the area is still unsafe for Europeans." 78-"I have been thinking about friendship, how it is usually an accident." 79-" You would have thought that in a place where the Emperor sometimes comes to worship there would have been priest about, or at least someone to pull up the weeds. Marie would not go down to the actual temple because she was reminded of the Boxer Troubles by what she says is the most frightening thing in China, a sudden deep silence where there should be continuous noise. It was certainly silent at the Temple of Heaven and we were quite glad to get back into the carriage again and hear the clip-clop of hoses' hooves." 96-Tea party at winter glance. 165-"The most terrible thing in the play is the idea of the Fates hounding, the witches their instrument, so that you know there is no escape for Macbeth, his doom inevitable. This is a little like the idea of God strict Presbysterians in Scotland still have, that He has chosen you for hell or heaven before you are born. It is a really wicked thing to pin on God. I cannot believe in Fate as we see it in Macbeth. I was not inevitable destined to climb a Chinese hill path and allow a Japanese soldier to make me with child. What I did then was from my own choice, I cannot blame God or the Fates, just myself. And often, looking at Tomo, I am glad." 169-how the homes in Japan were built. How they survive earthquakes and fires. 208-"I have learned a great deal about Japanese bows. A book could be written on the art, which is subject to stricter rules than flowers arranging. There are bows for one's social equals, these variable according to the circumstances of the meeting, and for one's superiors, bows for servants, tradesmen, even tram conductors, men's bows to women, always shallow, women's to men, always very deep, plus a huge assortment of women's bows for other women, these a complete language in themselves. without saying one word a lady can place you exactly where she thinks you ought to be and more fool if you don't know that you are being assigned your state, as newcomers to what seems the world's politest country never do. The visitor's bow was really very generous, classifying me as almost a lady, if not quite." 232-Tsunamis 238- The industrialization of Japan. 288-the ginger tree-- I think she kept this in her garden because it was out of place just like she was. 311-"I have seen this happen often enough before, waves of anti-Western sentiment, the worse after the American Exclusion Act, which branded the Japanese as yellow Asiatics and not fit to set foot on US soil. At that time I couldn't blame the people around me for the hard looks I got, and I don't now either, for this time they are the victims of the militarist propaganda machine, being groomed to think what the ruling generals, including Kentaro, want them to think." I liked the book and would recommend it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I wasn't sure how I would like this book as it takes the form of letters and diary/ journal entries but I was hooked from page 1. Mary carried me from Edinburgh to China and then Japan with her all the way. I am not sure how historically accurate it was but as a portrayal of how young married women were treated in the far east, it moved me. I was so good to read how she survived and grew. My only criticism is that some times the time lapse were too large and I was left wondering about the missin I wasn't sure how I would like this book as it takes the form of letters and diary/ journal entries but I was hooked from page 1. Mary carried me from Edinburgh to China and then Japan with her all the way. I am not sure how historically accurate it was but as a portrayal of how young married women were treated in the far east, it moved me. I was so good to read how she survived and grew. My only criticism is that some times the time lapse were too large and I was left wondering about the missing years. Highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tripfiction

    Wonderful novel set in PEKING and TOKYO This is one of the few novels I have read twice, it is that good! It is published by Eland Publishing who have a wonderful ethos: “..founded in 1982 to revive great travel books which had fallen out of print. although the list has diversified into biography and fiction, it is united by a quest to define the spirit of a place. These are books for travellers, and for those who are content to travel in their own minds, Eland books ion out our understanding of Wonderful novel set in PEKING and TOKYO This is one of the few novels I have read twice, it is that good! It is published by Eland Publishing who have a wonderful ethos: “..founded in 1982 to revive great travel books which had fallen out of print. although the list has diversified into biography and fiction, it is united by a quest to define the spirit of a place. These are books for travellers, and for those who are content to travel in their own minds, Eland books ion out our understanding of other cultures, interpret the unknown and reveal different environments as well as celebrating the humour and occasional horrors of travel..” So, what makes this novel so special? It is written in an incredibly readable style, with engaging humour and acute observation. Each sentence can be savoured as you take a wry look at this part of the world; it is a story told with perspicacity and heartfelt empathy. Mary Mackenzie sets out on the SS Mooldera, in the early 20th Century to meet up with her husband-to-be, Richard Collingsworth, who is based in Peking. Theirs is a cold marriage and he seems little interested in her, save that she should bear him a child. She does indeed sire him a daughter, Jane. Shameful events propel her into a new life, and she uproots herself to Tokyo where she settles in reduced circumstances. She is forced to leave Jane with Richard. Her mother by this time has disowned her and she is cast adrift. Lovely details of local life are wonderfully recorded. The Empress with whom she has an audience before her life falls apart sits with her nails covered in silver talons more than 30 cms long. A striking but disabling feature that mean she is totally dependent on her staff. The author time and again comes back to the role of women and has Mary befriending a Japanese female agitator later in the book. These really are times when women had to fight for any rights. It is a fascinating period of history, a time when women are subjugated by society and male dominance. Mary has to navigate her way through an unfamiliar culture and find a way to survive. And survive she does, ending up in one of the big department stores in Tokyo, heading up the fashion department. Japanese women couldn’t get enough of Western fashion and she found a niche that pandered to this trend. After a few setbacks she ploughs forward with her life, determination and stoicism see her through catastrophes and upset. The story is set just after the Boxer Rising in China and then against the Russo-Japanese War. This is a time when foreigners stood out and often not overtly welcome. As the story progresses further events on the world stage influence the life of the protagonist, right up to WW2. The Kantō Earthquake, for example, is detailed; as it took place at lunchtime the braziers were being used all around the city and thus fires devastated large areas leaving 1.9 million people without shelter. The story is told through her diary reminiscences and letters she writes to her friends and mother. She is a survivor and an observer of life from the sidelines. Her story is written with verve, humour and brought to life in wonderful prose. It is a book to savour and enjoy; I am truly appreciative of the excellent writing style. Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    An alien. Book Club Book. Did you know that ginger trees do not naturally grow in cities in Japan? Considered an ugly, alien plant that will not give up, the ginger tree comes to symbolize the life and ambitions of Mary Mackenzie. Written entirely as either journal entries or letters to her mother and/or a friend called Marie, The Ginger Tree tells the story of a young, sheltered, naive -- yet strong! -- young woman at the turn of the 20th century. We journey with her on the road to maturity as we An alien. Book Club Book. Did you know that ginger trees do not naturally grow in cities in Japan? Considered an ugly, alien plant that will not give up, the ginger tree comes to symbolize the life and ambitions of Mary Mackenzie. Written entirely as either journal entries or letters to her mother and/or a friend called Marie, The Ginger Tree tells the story of a young, sheltered, naive -- yet strong! -- young woman at the turn of the 20th century. We journey with her on the road to maturity as well as the road all over the world -- starting on a ship heading to China. On her way we catch glimpses of her backbone. In China, we see her survive a loveless and cold marriage. In Japan, we see her... well, I do not want to give spoilers in this review. So why did I give this book four stars? Remember: four stars in Goodreads equals "I really liked it." I really liked Mary. She was strong but not ridiculously so -- in fact, there were times when I wished she were even stronger. Or at least more vocal. I liked the setting / atmosphere -- I found myself looking up the places she lived or traveled as well as re-reading books (Boxers and Saints!) and reading up on historical events to gather insights into what was going on in that part of the world. I liked the connection to the view of an expat (the foreign connection mentioned at the start of this review about a ginger tree). I am not an "expat" in the conventional sense of the word (in fact, I consider myself a "lifer"... :-) ), and yet, I have expatriated from my birth country. I can do many things to try and fit in and yet I am an outsider, a foreigner. While having said THAT, I no longer fit in as seamlessly in my home country -- as Mary cannot go home to Scotland, it would be hard for me to return to the USA. I also liked how Oswald Wynd, a man, captured the character of a woman. Men writing about women in 3rd person, is do-able. Writing first person in journal entries... hmm... a bit more challenging. He does it well. Finally, I very much enjoyed our book club discussion. Fascinating takes and insights on the book! Why not five? The metaphorical and physical journey took too long at times. I did not really like Count Kurihama and a couple of other elements (not telling due to spoilers).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monthly Book Group

    This very readable novel tells the story of Mary MacKenzie, taken from her genteel and strict upbringing in Edinburgh to no less strict societies in Japan and China, and how the life changing event of an extra-marital liaison leads to her eventual, partial integration and development in her chosen land. We learn about Eastern attitudes, ambitions and the foretold expansionism of Japan through her personal and diplomatic relationships with a number of strong and diverse characters in the diplomat This very readable novel tells the story of Mary MacKenzie, taken from her genteel and strict upbringing in Edinburgh to no less strict societies in Japan and China, and how the life changing event of an extra-marital liaison leads to her eventual, partial integration and development in her chosen land. We learn about Eastern attitudes, ambitions and the foretold expansionism of Japan through her personal and diplomatic relationships with a number of strong and diverse characters in the diplomatic and social sphere. Written in 1977, it was possible that some of the early 20th century foresight of Mary about Eastern progress may have been coloured by the hindsight of the author! The author, a fascinating character wrote this book on the basis of his understanding of Japanese language and culture, his experiences as a child of missionary parents, and his subsequent experience as a prisoner of war. After the war, he vowed never to return, and it is interesting that his apparent antipathy to the Japanese people is not obvious in the book. Indeed, one big attraction of the book for the host was the contrast drawn between the two rigid cultural attitudes in Japan and Scotland. Given that the author was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and he vowed never to go back to Japan, why was the book so sympathetic to Japanese culture? Possibly, the passage of time had mellowed his opinion, and he recalled his happy childhood rather than his war experience. Technically, the use of letters and diaries to draw out the plot was very effective. Mary was able to introduce the characters quite naturally, and develop them through the story. The author is able to get inside the female character very effectively, writing consistently and honestly…. This is an extract from a review at http://monthlybookgroup.wordpress.com/. Our reviews are also to be found at http://monthlybookgroup.blogspot.com/

  15. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Am I the only guy who has read this book? I grabbed this book on my way out the door, on the way to pick up our son from pre-school. If I arrive early, I wait and read a book. I didn't notice until I had arrived at the school that it was not one of my books, but one of my wife's instead. When I told her what I was reading she said; 'You're not going to like that one'. She said that since I usually read a lot of 'guy' type books. WWII memoirs, travel adventure books, some non-fiction History, mys Am I the only guy who has read this book? I grabbed this book on my way out the door, on the way to pick up our son from pre-school. If I arrive early, I wait and read a book. I didn't notice until I had arrived at the school that it was not one of my books, but one of my wife's instead. When I told her what I was reading she said; 'You're not going to like that one'. She said that since I usually read a lot of 'guy' type books. WWII memoirs, travel adventure books, some non-fiction History, mysteries. She was wrong though, I did like it. I did like, and I liked it a lot. Not well enough for it to be a 'five star' book, but almost. The format used is perfect for this type of long term story. With plenty of period detail without throwing in so much detail that it seems like the author is showing off the amount of research he did in order to make it a History lesson. There are a few things that I found a little bit unbelievable, but not so many that it ruined the book or made it unbearable. A very cinematic book as well. I know there was a TV mini-series adaptation in the 80's, it seems as though it would be a good candidate for an update for the large screen. Anyone reading this book should then give it to their boyfriend or husband to read, they just might like it too.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rae

    Set in China and Japan, spanning the period from 1903 to the outbreak of WW2, The Ginger Tree tells the story of young Scottish woman, Mary Mackenzie, who travels to China to marry, then through circumstance is forced to survive alone in an alien East. This was chosen as my book group read and I'm so glad it was, as it was the first I'd heard of author,Oswald Wynd, and The Ginger Tree. At times, through 21st century eyes, I found it difficult to understand decisions taken my Mary, but be in no d Set in China and Japan, spanning the period from 1903 to the outbreak of WW2, The Ginger Tree tells the story of young Scottish woman, Mary Mackenzie, who travels to China to marry, then through circumstance is forced to survive alone in an alien East. This was chosen as my book group read and I'm so glad it was, as it was the first I'd heard of author,Oswald Wynd, and The Ginger Tree. At times, through 21st century eyes, I found it difficult to understand decisions taken my Mary, but be in no doubt she is a character ahead of her time - a woman unafraid to flout convention, quietly carving her own path in a world dominated by men. This is a beautifully written novel which offers the reader a glimpse into everyday life in Japan during a period when most eyes were focused on the broader world stage. Scottish stoicism put to the test.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kyra

    Loved it, loved it, loved it. Beautifully written fascinating account of the fall from grace & subsequent struggle to establish a life on her own of a Scottish girl from Edinburgh who goes to China in 1903 to marry a rather stuffy unpleasant British military attache. Mary Mackenzie keeps a diary and the novel follows her very brief cataclysmic affair with a Japanese officer recuperating in China from a wound incurred during the Russo Japanese war, her pregnancy, her banishment by her husband and Loved it, loved it, loved it. Beautifully written fascinating account of the fall from grace & subsequent struggle to establish a life on her own of a Scottish girl from Edinburgh who goes to China in 1903 to marry a rather stuffy unpleasant British military attache. Mary Mackenzie keeps a diary and the novel follows her very brief cataclysmic affair with a Japanese officer recuperating in China from a wound incurred during the Russo Japanese war, her pregnancy, her banishment by her husband and the closed society she inhabits and her life through the beginning years of World War II as a 'white devil' in Japan. A really fantastic book. I highly recommend it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Thank you Bernadette for recommending this book last year. I finally got around to reading it and I am so glad that I did. It's been a while since I have been able to get lost in a book with a fascinating subject and a wonderful character who had to endure so much just to survive. It brought back Japan to me and all that Mary MacKenzie went through was just the icing on the cake for me. I can't recommend this book enough. It would be an outstanding choice for a bookclub. Thanks again Bernadette. Thank you Bernadette for recommending this book last year. I finally got around to reading it and I am so glad that I did. It's been a while since I have been able to get lost in a book with a fascinating subject and a wonderful character who had to endure so much just to survive. It brought back Japan to me and all that Mary MacKenzie went through was just the icing on the cake for me. I can't recommend this book enough. It would be an outstanding choice for a bookclub. Thanks again Bernadette.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Valentina Morgana la fata

    I'll start saying that the author, Oswald Wynd was born and grew up in Japan and long after, he was a Japanese prisoner of war, this means he has some kind of a grudge against Japanese people, even if he respects them. You can feel it all over the book, the first person knowledge of a Country, of a population, their ways and their mentalities, I think that, until now he was the best to describe Japanese way of thinking and the sudden and deep change in their ways after 1910, their strong nationa I'll start saying that the author, Oswald Wynd was born and grew up in Japan and long after, he was a Japanese prisoner of war, this means he has some kind of a grudge against Japanese people, even if he respects them. You can feel it all over the book, the first person knowledge of a Country, of a population, their ways and their mentalities, I think that, until now he was the best to describe Japanese way of thinking and the sudden and deep change in their ways after 1910, their strong national feeling and their, if not hate, low tolerance for foreigners. Also I loved very much the details of it all, going from dresses to buildings, to gardens, to burial ceremonies, it made me feel really there. But...of course there are buts, Wynd is a man and you can feel it trough the book, the way he writes about things, his point of view is really manly and it doesn't sit well with a female protagonist. Also, the book is written in a form of diary's entries interrupted only by Mary's letters, which is not really a captivating style, and he has the habit to make very long temporal jumps, and I'm talking about years and that makes things a little confusing. Beside that I've bought this book for the setting, of course, but because, for once, I'd have liked to read a good romance but I was disappointed, there is almost no romance, the character have not been developed enough on this part, not to mention Wynd's habit to only mention events that are important for the plot without further writing about them. Which has been very disappointing for me. So, recommended for the detailed settings and the sincere description of another country's mentality, not recommended for characters development and romance. Also, if you don't like diary's stile writing please don't read it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lavinia

    My memory of The Novel Cure is timeworn, and I have forgotten what about the description of this book drew me in. For all others, I would describe the book as being both about a dependent person becoming independent and an affair, without being romantic. Not romantic about the affair, at least. I typically avoid travelogues, but though about half the book is indeed about travel (including sea voyages between Western Europe and the Far East and the holiday-centric lifestyle of the leisure class) i My memory of The Novel Cure is timeworn, and I have forgotten what about the description of this book drew me in. For all others, I would describe the book as being both about a dependent person becoming independent and an affair, without being romantic. Not romantic about the affair, at least. I typically avoid travelogues, but though about half the book is indeed about travel (including sea voyages between Western Europe and the Far East and the holiday-centric lifestyle of the leisure class) it is primarily about settling down. Mary Mackenzie goes willingly abroad from Scotland in 1903 to enter into an unsatisfactory marriage with a British military attaché in Beijing; her deviation from that marriage with a Japanese count lands her in Tokyo with no official status two years later. Though those relocations had goals, none of those goals involved specifically living in Beijing or Tokyo. That puts this story quite apart from most fictional stories about Westerners living in Japan, which are increasingly about or by fans of Japanese culture. Wynd, having according to the author bio lived in Japan for decades himself, successfully captures Japan and China as no more or less than places with their own customs and politics, never fully comparable to any other place. I personally avoid books that shove a contemporary-feeling character into a historical setting and make that character the linchpin of some great event or movement. Mary manages to avoid this fate, though some of her musings about the future (which is all the past, for Wynd) and social change are a bit too on the nose -- not the ideas, but how she talks about them. There are some ahistorical details, but for the most part "you either know it or you don't". I believe most readers would not be distracted by the many references to the Matsuzakara (Matsuzakaya, in real life) department store, and given Mary's fairly realistic relationship with the store it is described unflatteringly. As far as I could tell, these details were more common at the start of the book and, intentional or not, portray Mary as a foreigner in over her head who has not succeeded in learning about her surroundings. The empathetic but stark portrayal of Japanese nationalism, especially in the run-up to WWII, stood out to me as being the rarest detail. I often feel that Western writers have difficulty imagining or describing any nonwhite supremacy or chauvinism, but other peoples certainly have these faults. Japanese culture has evolved so much since the end of the war that works coming after (especially those popular in the West) seem to regard the culture before as both distant and intangibly omnipresent, like the air of a biome very different from your own yet still on the same planet. Mary is far from a typical Western traveler consuming Japan for leisure, not only in her lack of initial interest but specifically because of her desperation. She cannot limit her experiences only to the beautiful and courteous parts of Japan because she lacks the wealth and social connections to be a respected foreign lady of means. Mary's sardonic voice describing the difficulties of surviving alone as a woman in Meiji Tokyo reminded me of Lucinda's fate in Oscar and Lucinda, though she is able to later spend some decades as an independently-wealthy eccentric. Though that same sardonic voice grants that her first husband has the "right" to read her letters at the very start of the book, she frequently notes and admits a horror of dependency: beggars, lepers, the incapacitatingly-long nail guards (described as just nails) worn by the Dowager Empress Cixi, her growing discomfort at being kept as a mistress. She grows not only financially independent, but able to treat her friends simply as friends rather than necessary tools of survival. I often find passionate romances incomprehensible when put down in writing, and I appreciated that I did not need to empathize with or even witness most of Mary's affair with Kentaro -- her reasons are obvious, his shrouded in mystery, and Mary willingly lives with the consequences. Mary is never portrayed as strongly emotional, except when it comes to her children. Her relationship with her children is by far the more romantic, in that is undampened by reason and becomes the undercurrent of her life. Mary and Kentaro's relationship proceeds only as suits him, and she hardly spends the rest of the time despairing. Mary's love for children who knew her for only months is what keeps her up at night, gives her the strength to push Kentaro away, binds her to both Britain and Japan against her will, and is the only avenue through which Kentaro can make things up to her. (view spoiler)[Also in the way of romance novels, Mary is finally able to contact her children at the very end. It seemed a bit rushed, but as WWII is at that point starting to rage, it also fleetingly captures that atmosphere of wartime dramas that is all at once numb, hysterical, and free of regret. (hide spoiler)] The epistolary format both highlights and diminishes the drama of Mary's life. It was validating to see that, like me, Mary tends to write only when things are going poorly. Long stretches of quiet happiness take place entirely offscreen; while it is a little confusing to see so many letters at the beginning and fewer as Mary comes into her own social network, it also divides people and events as those worthy and not worthy of inclusion. (view spoiler)[For example, Robert Collingsworth means so little to Mary that his death is mentioned only years after the fact. On the other hand, while none of Mary's post-divorce letters to her mother are shown, the occasion of getting them back upon her mother's death does warrant reflection. (hide spoiler)] I would have liked to see a bit more of Mary's life, but what is included quite artfully explains without explaining.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Story

    There's always something extra delightful about coming across a novel you've never heard of by chance and then finding out you love it. I grabbed this one from my Little Free Library in the early days of the pandemic, when the public library was closed, but for some reason, just got around to reading it now. The story of Mary, a rather innocent young woman, travelling by ship to China to marry a man she barely knows, pulled me in right from the first paragraph and held me in its thrall right to t There's always something extra delightful about coming across a novel you've never heard of by chance and then finding out you love it. I grabbed this one from my Little Free Library in the early days of the pandemic, when the public library was closed, but for some reason, just got around to reading it now. The story of Mary, a rather innocent young woman, travelling by ship to China to marry a man she barely knows, pulled me in right from the first paragraph and held me in its thrall right to the end. While the story is billed as a romance (young woman falls madly in love with the wrong man and almost loses everything) it was so much more than that. Mary is no ordinary romantic heroine but instead a brave adventurer who learns to trust her instincts and use her intelligence to create a life for herself, even in the face of unbearable loss. Spanning 40 years and several countries, this was a perfect read for those of us getting a little tired of staring at the same four walls for months on end. 4.5 stars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    starduest

    Insights to Japan (and China) that after all these years can still hold true. The first third of the book was indescribably good. The next third was interesting and the last third seemed slightly odd but the final sucker punch to the gut clinched it for me. Some parts of the plot may leave you scratching your head but I encourage readers not to scrutinise too logically but just allow themselves to be swept along by Mary's life in East Asia. The slightly impassionate tone of her diary entries act Insights to Japan (and China) that after all these years can still hold true. The first third of the book was indescribably good. The next third was interesting and the last third seemed slightly odd but the final sucker punch to the gut clinched it for me. Some parts of the plot may leave you scratching your head but I encourage readers not to scrutinise too logically but just allow themselves to be swept along by Mary's life in East Asia. The slightly impassionate tone of her diary entries actually worked quite well, allowing the reader to have their own emotional reactions to her observations and tribulations.

  23. 4 out of 5

    MaryJo Hansen

    This novel, told in dairy format, is one of the best books to read if you want a totally immersive experience. The heroine is a young Scottish woman in 1904 who leaves her home to marry a British military attache in China. And then the story widens and deepens. She has a child, an affair, moves to Japan, has another child, starts a successful clothing store (for Japanese women wanting to wear Western dress) lives thru WW1, the great Tokyo earthquake in 1923, and then WW2 starts. Even though this This novel, told in dairy format, is one of the best books to read if you want a totally immersive experience. The heroine is a young Scottish woman in 1904 who leaves her home to marry a British military attache in China. And then the story widens and deepens. She has a child, an affair, moves to Japan, has another child, starts a successful clothing store (for Japanese women wanting to wear Western dress) lives thru WW1, the great Tokyo earthquake in 1923, and then WW2 starts. Even though this was written by a British man in 1970 it could have been written today about a fearless, independent and honest woman. Also it paints a fascinating picture of what Japan was like during the early 20th century.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Douglas Rowland

    A huge surprise for me -- a more fascinating, successful novel I could not ask for. I was expecting more old-fashioned East meets West garbage (and a romance at that), but this is a sophisticated, stunningly written masterpiece and not at all some predictable genre novel. Oswald Wynd was a Scot (I think) who was born and raised in Japan prior to World War II, and he clearly understands the country and its people. I've been frantically searching out all the books by him I can find. Very much reco A huge surprise for me -- a more fascinating, successful novel I could not ask for. I was expecting more old-fashioned East meets West garbage (and a romance at that), but this is a sophisticated, stunningly written masterpiece and not at all some predictable genre novel. Oswald Wynd was a Scot (I think) who was born and raised in Japan prior to World War II, and he clearly understands the country and its people. I've been frantically searching out all the books by him I can find. Very much recommended, probably the best novel I've read so far this year.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

    There are some great moments in this, and I love the world it evokes. The prose is often denser than I prefer though, and I think it would have been more enjoyable if that had been thinned a bit in some spots. I think it does the Forest Gump moments of history thing too, which comes off as a gimmick where that occurs. On the whole very nicely done though. I enjoyed reading.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary Tonks

    Rather melodramatic story of one young Scottish woman's experiences living in China and Japan, beginning in 1903 and ending in 1942. The story is told through journal entries and letters, spanning the uncertain history of these countries. Rather melodramatic story of one young Scottish woman's experiences living in China and Japan, beginning in 1903 and ending in 1942. The story is told through journal entries and letters, spanning the uncertain history of these countries.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    My daughter dropped this book off, along with a pile of other books, to keep me going through the "stay at home" directive. She hadn't read the book, just gotten it cheap somewhere. I found it to be a very interesting and engaging book. It's the story of a young Scottish woman in the early 1900's who marries a soldier who is posted to China. Eventually she ends up in Japan, without the husband, and makes a new life for herself in that country. I enjoyed the story because, although it is fiction, My daughter dropped this book off, along with a pile of other books, to keep me going through the "stay at home" directive. She hadn't read the book, just gotten it cheap somewhere. I found it to be a very interesting and engaging book. It's the story of a young Scottish woman in the early 1900's who marries a soldier who is posted to China. Eventually she ends up in Japan, without the husband, and makes a new life for herself in that country. I enjoyed the story because, although it is fiction, it gave insight into a part of history I know little about.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Nelson

    Kicking my 13 year old self for putting this on the shelf without reading it. This was dangerously good

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I found the subtleties in this book fascinating. I don’t think I’ve read a book written by a man that captures so much of what it means to be a woman. It also delivered what I love to read in novels: a great “sex scene” and lots of tears at the end! Highly recommended!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donna LaValley

    An outline of the story creates great anticipation, but the actual book disappoints the reader. The main character is Mary, who in 1903 leaves her home in Scotland to sail for China where she will marry her fiancé, who is there with the diplomatic corps. In the first year, she has a child, is unhappy and (this is not a spoiler because this info is printed on the back of the book) begins an illicit affair with a Japanese general. For her scandal, she is removed from European society and separated An outline of the story creates great anticipation, but the actual book disappoints the reader. The main character is Mary, who in 1903 leaves her home in Scotland to sail for China where she will marry her fiancé, who is there with the diplomatic corps. In the first year, she has a child, is unhappy and (this is not a spoiler because this info is printed on the back of the book) begins an illicit affair with a Japanese general. For her scandal, she is removed from European society and separated from her daughter, and is to about to be deported. However, the Japanese general moves her to Japan where she has a baby boy. Her fortunes and relationships change with national and international events. By the time she returns to Great Britain in about 1944, she has experienced shame, betrayal, success, and a level of independence seldom found by a female, especially a foreign one in an Asian country. In the early 1950’s, when this novel was written, most “serious literary fiction” was written by men, published by men, and evaluated by male critics of literature. When they chose a female as the lead character, the personality of that woman seldom rang true for me. (As an English major in the late 1960’s, I read dozens of examples.) In The Ginger Tree, Mary seems to think, feel, and act more like a man than a girl, and later, a woman. I wonder if the author did any kind of research (asking females, and listening) before he wrote the book. (Doubtful) First, Mary’s relationship with her mother is odd; she’s an only child, very young, and she's getting on a ship to sail so far, far away to a strange place, and yet – where is the emotion? Lonely in China, and not happily married, she has a beautiful, easy-care daughter. Most women would dote on this child, perhaps even overmuch in the circumstances. Mary is almost aloof. Is anything said about the intimacy or lack of it with her husband? Her feelings are almost unknown. What about the fear and maybe panic of giving birth for the first time, in a foreign land? When she begins the affair, sex is a matter-of-fact decision, told in a way that (to my mind) resembles more the male point of view about extramarital sex. Later, when she works in the clothing industry, the business aspects ring true. She is conducting business well, something the author may be recounting from first or second-hand experience. The story takes place during a volatile time for China and Japan. Historical details about the wars and alliances add interest.

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