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The great Isabel Allende--author of the much-heralded House of the Spirits and City of Beasts--is back. Her latest novel, The Japanese Lover, is a graceful account of the tragic events of World War II and the effect they had on everyday people's lives.

The book opens at Lark House, a San Francisco-based nursing home where Irina Bazili, a care worker, encounters Alma Belasco, a wealthy resident who asks for her help organizing her affairs. In the process, Irina meets Alma’s grandson, Seth, and the two form a bond as they discover that the last 70 years of Alma’s life are not what they have seemed.

Flash back to 1939, when Alma’s parents sent her to live with her rich aunt and uncle in San Francisco, just as Poland was about to be invaded by Nazis. Alma befriends--and falls in love with--Ichimei Fukuda, the kindhearted son of the family’s Japanese gardener. But the attack on Pearl Harbor tears the two apart, thus beginning a heart-wrenching love affair that the two are forced to keep secret for decades.

Allende is known for magical realism, and while The Japanese Lover may depart from her typical fiction in that regard (it cleaves closely to events that could have taken place), it’s still rich with lyrical prose and compelling plot turns. This is Allende at her very best.

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