The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

This was a Hudson Literary Guild selection. 

The story focuses on Alma Belasco and the various relationships in her life.  As a child, Alma’s beloved brother went away to war, and her parent’s sent her from prewar Poland to live with wealthy relatives in San Francisco.  When we first met her, she has decided to move into Lark House, a senior living facility with various levels of care.  Here Alma meets Irina, whom she hires to help her sort through and dispose of her possessions as Alma prepares for the eventual end of her life. 

As Irina, and Seth, Alma’s grandson who is writing a book about his grandmother’s life, review her belongings, they find the answer to Alma’s mysterious periodic disappearances.  Though Alma never discussed it, Irina learns that Alma had had a lover, Ichimei, the son of the Belasco family’s Japanese gardener.  Ichimei, and his family had been in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, causing him to lose touch with Alma for a long while.  When Lenny, a new resident at Lark House, turns out to be an old friend of Alma’s, that also raises questions about Alma’s relationship with her husband, Nathaniel.  But, Irina has secrets too, that prevent her from allowing Seth the intimacy he craves. 

The story is told in alternating viewpoints, that allow the reader to gradually discover everyone’s secrets.