“The Ginger Tree”

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd (294 pp.)

When Mary Mackenzie is sailing from Great Britain to China in order to marry her fiancé, she finds herself feeling restless. Her chaperone is too rigid, and Mary must even hide the fact that she is not wearing her corset under her clothing despite the fact that the humidity and heat are greater then anything she ever has ever before experienced.

Mary arrives in Peking; weds in the Church of England (although she refuses to drop her Presbyterian roots) and upsets the people who know her husband; finds her husband is a tight wad and cannot understand why he married her. She is seated near Kentaro at a few formal dinners and tries to draw him out. On a vacation with her friends, Mary bumps into Kentaro praying at an abandoned temple. They have brief affair which leaves Mary pregnant.  Richard, her husband, is gone on a secret mission as military attaché.

When Richard returns home to find Mary pregnant, he throws her out of the house, not allowing her to ever see her daughter again. The rights of women (or lack of them) are a central theme in this book. We see how Mary is treated by the British, the Chinese, and the Japanese. Mary falls under the protection of Kentaro, who believes it is his duty to support her. She becomes his “second wife,” but this arrangement still leaves her at the will of a man. He comes and goes according to his schedule. When the baby is born and has Japanese features, it seems Kentaro is content and visits and loves the baby.

However, one day, the baby simply “disappears.”  This is the work of Kentaro. He believes the baby will be better off raised in an adoptive family. A family would be easy to find since the child has royal blood. Mary would never have agreed to this scheme and has been left out. When one of the maids, a woman who took part in the scheme, comes back to Mary’s house while she is away in order to collect some belongings, Mary wrestles her to the floor and demands information. The newspapers later say that Mary tried to murder the maid.

Mary decides that she cannot live under the protection of Kentaro since he has taken her son. However, she cannot leave Japan because she hopes to learn something of her son and his fate. The rest of the book is about her search for independence as a foreigner women in a man’s Japan, her opportunities to get back in touch with her daughter and her son, and the difficulties of maintaining relationships as World War II arrives.

This is a good read for budding feminists and for students who want to read (loosely) historical fiction or who wish to start with fiction and then do research on the historical period/setting of the book.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction/Historical Element, Multicultural. Bookmark the permalink.

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