This best-selling novel, published in 2007, is another effort to explain Japan to the West. Angela Gardner-Davis taught for a year in a Tokyo college. Her point-of-view character, Barbara, is teaching at a Tokyo college, but I suspect that's where the similarities between author and character end.
Another teacher, who has killed herself before the story begins, has left Barbara her tansu, an antique chest, that contains bottles of plum wine, each wrapped in a sheet of paper covered with Japanese writing. These are the New Years accounts by the dead teacher who has willed the tansu to Barbara. In her effort to find a translator of these intriguing documents, Barbara connects with Seiji, an erratic and cold potter. Barbara and Seiji begin an affair although I could not understand what she saw in him. True, she is painfully lonely, but it was hard for me to see what she was getting out of the relationship.
Gardner-Davis, who reports she did a ton of research for this novel, tells us about the lives of Hiroshima survivors, legends of foxes (they can turn into beautiful women and lead men astray), the Vietnam War (the book is set in 1965 and a character repairs the mutilated faces of dead GIs), Japanese pottery, and much more.
While the book is easy to read, I am afraid I am out of sympathy with the characters. It may well be my failure that I cannot identify with the victim of the Hiroshima bombing, but I am also not sure that that excuses (or explains) unpleasant behavior. I am also not sure about a female character who wants what she cannot have, can never have, and apparently cannot understand she cannot have it. I would not recommend Plum Wine to a reader who wants to know about Japan and its culture.