Fifty Words for Rain: A Novel

Written by Asha Lemmie
Review by Sarah Johnson

With her first novel, Asha Lemmie proves herself a talented writer unafraid to take chances. Her heroine’s situation is unique, and her journey to adulthood is one that won’t leave the mind quickly. Noriko “Nori” Kamiza is only eight when her beautiful mother brings her to her family home in Kyoto in 1948 and abandons her at the gates, making her promise to obey and keep silent. We soon learn why: Nori is illegitimate, the product of her aristocratic mother’s affair with a Black American GI, and her appearance and very existence are a deep source of shame.

For two years, Nori remains isolated in the mansion’s attic, cared for by her stern grandmother’s maid and educated well, but she’s subject to regular beatings and attempts to bleach her almond-colored skin. Her life changes when her teenage half-brother Akira arrives at the house to live after his father’s death. The dynamic that forms between them – the beloved heir and the accursed bastard – is mesmerizing. After being hidden away for so long, Nori is hungry for attention but afraid to misstep. She worships Akira for easing her restrictions and standing up for her, which nobody has done before. For his part, Akira clearly cares for his little sister, but he’s a brilliant violinist with plans of his own; she isn’t his entire world, like he is hers.

This is literary fiction with many quotable lines and a cinematic, fast-moving plot. Nori’s path to maturity is unorthodox and beset by dramatic, often shocking shifts in circumstance. Nori is bright, curious, and – understandably – not in good control of her emotions. Readers may struggle with some of her choices. They also won’t fail to empathize with her as she learns self-acceptance, overcomes prejudice, and emerges as a powerful force of her own.