April sees the release of My Enemy’s Cherry Tree by Wang Ting-Kuo, which is the first book by this author to be published in English, translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin. When a copy of this book arrived it was one that intrigued me, as it was not a title or author I was familiar with, but the author’s story in itself is an interesting one. Ting-Kuo was a celebrated author who began writing as a teen, only for this to be put to one side when he received an ultimatum from his father in law who made him choose between his writing career or his daughter. My Enemy’s Cherry Tree marks his return to writing, with a story that has captured readers’ imaginations, as the recipient of all three major literary prizes in Taiwan.
In the opening pages we are introduced to an empty cafe, where we get the sense that there is a lot unsaid between the man who set up the cafe, and the sole customer who has arrived, resulting in an uncomfortable interaction. It is the moments that pass between these two men that are crucial to this story of a relationship, and the circumstances that led to life for this man to take an unfortunate turn. The narrator in this story is a man who came from poverty to marry Quizi, the woman of his dreams. It is clear that from the first moment between them that he is besotted with this woman, but there are challenges to be faced by the pair as new business opportunities arise for him, whilst his wife acquires a camera through which she captures the world around her, as the cracks begin to show in her own world, and their relationship is put to the test. When Quizi vanishes without a trace he sets up a cafe in her favourite spot, in the hope that she will return to him.
The premise of My Enemy’s Cherry Tree was an interesting one, and I liked the idea of a man setting up a cafe in the hope of his wife’s return, only to be confronted by a man whom he blames for his suffering. The encounter between the two men leads him to look back on his life, and the events leading up to his current situation. This is something of a slow builder, as the writing gets to the heart of the characters, and explores their emotions. It is a story of love and loss, and also money and coercion, and the impact this can have on an individual, and those they hold dear. Through these characters Ting-Kuo has explored the fragility of relationships and the complexity of human emotions as the mystery surrounding a woman’s disappearance begins to unfold, alongside the life of the man who is waiting for her.
My Enemy’s Cherry Tree was an interesting read which follows the trajectory of a marriage as it gets to the bottom of what these characters feel, as their lives take a surprising turn. It is to be published on 4th April 2019 by Granta Books with thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.