The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng
As a teenager living in Penang, Malaya during the Japanese invasion of World War II, Phillip Hutton has to choose between several bad options. Born of a British adventurer/trader father and the daughter of a successful Chinese expatriate, Phillip is the student of a Japanese aikido master. The aikido becomes a metaphor for his choice, his ability to endure, and ultimately his survival–to deflect aggression, to roll, and to come up standing. But in life, it is a whole lot harder to carry off.
The combination of beautiful South Pacific imagery, the mystic presence of timelessness, the exploration of the depths of frienship and love, the inner struggles between conflicting loyalties, and the dance between inescapable fate and free will make this a richly enjoyable read for anyone who can read at or above a high school level. There is a load of information on the arrogance of British colonization, the last of the Chinese emperors, the psychology that drove the Japanese to war, the culture of Southeast Asia, Buddhism, the power system of Chinese Triads, the infancy of Asian communism and much more. Teen-age boys interested in Asian culture and history, as many seem to be, will love this adventure-filled book. Even though the protagonist is a boy, there are a few strong female characters too. A little thin on romance it may be, but I think teenage girls will like it too.
The Gift of Rain, published in 2008, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It is the kind of book you can’t wait to get back to and yet you hope you will never finish.