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The Ginger Tree

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,555 ratings  ·  338 reviews
In 1903, a young Scotswoman named Mary Mackenzie sets sail for China to marry her betrothed, a military attaché in Peking. But soon after her arrival, Mary falls into an adulterous affair with a young Japanese nobleman, scandalizing the British community. Casting her out of the European community, her compatriots tear her away from her small daughter. A woman abandoned and ...more
Paperback, 324 pages
Published May 28th 2002 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1977)
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Trudy The father was a Japanese aristocrat and knew that if the son stayed with the non-Japanese mother, he would be a sort of outcast. He wanted his son to…moreThe father was a Japanese aristocrat and knew that if the son stayed with the non-Japanese mother, he would be a sort of outcast. He wanted his son to be considered fully Japanese and lead a Japanese life, so he arranges him to be adopted into a wealthy Japanese family in need of a son to carry on their name. If he had not looked Japanese, or had he been a female child, it would have been likelier that he be allowed to stay with the mother. In the novel, however, it becomes clear later on that people of mixed Japanese ancestry did have a role in society, as lawyers, bankers, and such. So it is unfair, in the end, what the mother was made to suffer.
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Community Reviews

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3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,555 ratings  ·  338 reviews


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Anne
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is a story of a young Scottish woman, Mary MacKenzie, who moves to China to get married in the early 1900s. She tells us her story through diary entries and letters. The writing carries us from event to event in her life in a rather robotic way: this happened and then this happened and so on. The writing was very affectless which made me feel very distant from Mary and unengaged in her story. This made for quite tedious reading. Several times I felt like putting down this book, but thought ...more
Chrissie
Feb 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Chrissie by: Maggyheintz Heintz
NO SPOILERS
Finished: Having completed the whole book I now feel it was simply amazing. Why? It never felt like fiction. Never. I have a hard time believing it is not based on some person the author knew...... Mary, who she was when she travelled to marry Richard and who she became living alone in the Orient, was perfectly rendered.

This is not a long book. Only the essentials are related, but that which is depicted is done with care and wonderful prose. That which the author has chosen to tell u
...more
Rosemary
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a slow-burning historical novel that follows Scottish Mary Mackenzie from 1903 when she is sailing half way round the world to marry Richard, a military attaché stationed in China, to 1941 when she is finally sailing back, evacuated from the Far East in the Second World War, having made some choices and gone through some life events that the young Mary of the opening chapters would never have foreseen.

I found the first 100 pages slow going as there wasn’t much that hooked me emotionally
...more
Laura
Jun 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jeannette, Gundula, Bettie, Wanda, Hayes
Recommended to Laura by: Chrissie
Just arrived from USA trough BM.

This is the story of a Scotswoman Mary MacKenzie who starts her saga by sailing in 1903 in order to get married to a military attache in Peking. However, she falls in love with a young Japanese nobleman and her adulterous case is very criticized by the British community in Peking. If you really want to know what happens next, you MUST read this book which is written as letters to her mother in Scotland.
Barbara
Dec 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for more than 10 years. I was attracted to it by the recommendations of others but put off by the fact that it is told in journal entries and some letters, which is generally not my favorite way to convey a story. However, in this case, I was pulled into Mary Mackenzie's world from the first few pages and stayed there. It's been a long time since I've read a book that kept calling me to sit down and read every moment but this one did just that ...more
Anne
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure how I would like this book as it takes the form of letters and diary/ journal entries but I was hooked from page 1. Mary carried me from Edinburgh to China and then Japan with her all the way. I am not sure how historically accurate it was but as a portrayal of how young married women were treated in the far east, it moved me. I was so good to read how she survived and grew.
My only criticism is that some times the time lapse were too large and I was left wondering about the missin
...more
Tamhack
This book covers quite of bit of early 19 century in the China/Japan from 1903 to 1942. It is written by a male Oswald Wynd but in a women's voice. He pulls much from his own background: His parents were from Scotland -the main protagonist, Mary Mackenzie; the author was born in 1913 in the foreigner's quarter of Tokoyo, Japan in 1913 while his father was working as a baptist missionary and spent most of his life in Japan--his protagonist spent most of her adult life in Japan and felt like it wa ...more
Emily
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m so glad this book was chosen for book club. I can’t even begin to write my thoughts, but Mary’s fictional story still holds true for many things today. I couldn’t stop reading this book and loved every word.
Kiwiflora
This novel was first published way back in 1977, and has been reprinted several times so must be a popular story! This book was given to me to read by an elderly couple, her Japanese and he European. They were married in Japan some 47 years ago, such a mixed marriage being unusual for those days. They suggested I read this because it gives a lot of insight into Japanese society from around 1900 to WWII. Things of course started to change in Japan after the war, but prior to that very little chan ...more
Marija
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the kind of book that unfolds like a delectable seven-course meal. Not too rich and everything cooked to perfection. The characters are well-drawn, and sense of place is unforgettable.

What I love about this book is how it shows opportunities and decisions conspire to shape one's life, but outside forces will intrude. We are never truly in control of our own lives. Natural disasters, political forces, and people we randomly meet will change our lives for good and bad.

The plot of this bo
...more
Monthly Book Group
This very readable novel tells the story of Mary MacKenzie, taken from her genteel and strict upbringing in Edinburgh to no less strict societies in Japan and China, and how the life changing event of an extra-marital liaison leads to her eventual, partial integration and development in her chosen land. We learn about Eastern attitudes, ambitions and the foretold expansionism of Japan through her personal and diplomatic relationships with a number of strong and diverse characters in the diplomat ...more
Nancy
Nov 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, historical
This is by far the most interesting book I have read this year. The joy of participating in a book club is that you are often introduced to a book you would not find on your own, and that was precisely the case with this 1977 novel.

Written as the first-person account of a young woman travelling to Asia in 1903 to marry a Scottish military attaché, I was totally captivated by her story from the first page. It was very apparent, early on, that this was going to be a rough ride for our protagonist
...more
Peter
Am I the only guy who has read this book?

I grabbed this book on my way out the door, on the way to pick up our son from pre-school. If I arrive early, I wait and read a book. I didn't notice until I had arrived at the school that it was not one of my books, but one of my wife's instead. When I told her what I was reading she said; 'You're not going to like that one'. She said that since I usually read a lot of 'guy' type books. WWII memoirs, travel adventure books, some non-fiction History, mys
...more
Rae
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in China and Japan, spanning the period from 1903 to the outbreak of WW2, The Ginger Tree tells the story of young Scottish woman, Mary Mackenzie, who travels to China to marry, then through circumstance is forced to survive alone in an alien East. This was chosen as my book group read and I'm so glad it was, as it was the first I'd heard of author,Oswald Wynd, and The Ginger Tree. At times, through 21st century eyes, I found it difficult to understand decisions taken my Mary, but be in no d ...more
Kyra
Feb 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it, loved it, loved it. Beautifully written fascinating account of the fall from grace & subsequent struggle to establish a life on her own of a Scottish girl from Edinburgh who goes to China in 1903 to marry a rather stuffy unpleasant British military attache. Mary Mackenzie keeps a diary and the novel follows her very brief cataclysmic affair with a Japanese officer recuperating in China from a wound incurred during the Russo Japanese war, her pregnancy, her banishment by her husband ...more
Valentina Morgana la fata
I'll start saying that the author, Oswald Wynd was born and grew up in Japan and long after, he was a Japanese prisoner of war, this means he has some kind of a grudge against Japanese people, even if he respects them.
You can feel it all over the book, the first person knowledge of a Country, of a population, their ways and their mentalities, I think that, until now he was the best to describe Japanese way of thinking and the sudden and deep change in their ways after 1910, their strong nationa
...more
Deb
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An alien.

Book Club Book. Did you know that ginger trees do not naturally grow in cities in Japan? Considered an ugly, alien plant that will not give up, the ginger tree comes to symbolize the life and ambitions of Mary Mackenzie.

Written entirely as either journal entries or letters to her mother and/or a friend called Marie, The Ginger tree tells the story of a young, sheltered, naive -- yet strong! -- young woman at the turn of the 20th century. We journey with her on the road to maturity as we
...more
starduest
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insights to Japan (and China) that after all these years can still hold true. The first third of the book was indescribably good. The next third was interesting and the last third seemed slightly odd but the final sucker punch to the gut clinched it for me. Some parts of the plot may leave you scratching your head but I encourage readers not to scrutinise too logically but just allow themselves to be swept along by Mary's life in East Asia. The slightly impassionate tone of her diary entries act ...more
Mary
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thank you Bernadette for recommending this book last year. I finally got around to reading it and I am so glad that I did. It's been a while since I have been able to get lost in a book with a fascinating subject and a wonderful character who had to endure so much just to survive. It brought back Japan to me and all that Mary MacKenzie went through was just the icing on the cake for me. I can't recommend this book enough. It would be an outstanding choice for a bookclub. Thanks again Bernadette.
David
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some great moments in this, and I love the world it evokes. The prose is often denser than I prefer though, and I think it would have been more enjoyable if that had been thinned a bit in some spots. I think it does the Forest Gump moments of history thing too, which comes off as a gimmick where that occurs. On the whole very nicely done though. I enjoyed reading.
Mary
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the subtleties in this book fascinating. I don’t think I’ve read a book written by a man that captures so much of what it means to be a woman. It also delivered what I love to read in novels: a great “sex scene” and lots of tears at the end! Highly recommended!
Donna LaValley
An outline of the story creates great anticipation, but the actual book disappoints the reader. The main character is Mary, who in 1903 leaves her home in Scotland to sail for China where she will marry her fiancé, who is there with the diplomatic corps. In the first year, she has a child, is unhappy and (this is not a spoiler because this info is printed on the back of the book) begins an illicit affair with a Japanese general. For her scandal, she is removed from European society and separated ...more
L
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Where has this book been hiding? I very much enjoyed this story of a young woman named Mary who makes her way through the world; although it was very, very sad. But that's time for ya. She starts off on a boat, traveling to China to meet her betrothed. I admit that at first I didn't much care for her - stuffy and scandalized to be seen on deck with a man and her chaperone nowhere in sight!

Her marriage to a patronizing jerk seemed miserable. Poor Mary was choking on society at every turn, as if h
...more
Tocotin
It's a story of a young girl from Edinburgh who goes to China shortly after the Taiping Rebellion to marry a British military attaché, then has an affair with a Japanese aristocrat, is ostracized by the fellow foreigners, loses this and that (don't want to make spoilers), goes to live in Japan, then leaves Japan in the middle of the Pacific War. The end.

It's enjoyable, I suppose, well written and all that, interesting details, but the main character, apparently designed as a strong, resilient wo
...more
Dave H
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
This well-researched epistolary novel by Oswald Wynd follows a young Scotchwoman’s (Mary MacKenzie) journey to China at the start of the twentieth-century. I enjoyed the book’s relatively unusual examination of a woman’s position in colonial high society and her ‘insights’ into the culture of China and Japan at this time.

Alas I never really felt very engaged by Mary herself begins as a naïve air head who eventually heaps misfortune on herself through terrible choices and becomes a masochist des
...more
Lisa Maxwell
Many people wish to live life on their own terms.

They frequently fail to foresee the costs.

Mary Mackenzie is one of these people.

Oswald Wynd's The Ginger Tree is Mary's story -- the turn-of-the-20th-century tale of an impetuous, young Scottish woman whose unwise choices wreak lifelong consequences. On dangerously brief acquaintance, 20-year old Mary becomes betrothed to Richard Collingworth, the human equivalent of a pretty, shiny bauble. Marriage to the handsome, well-connected military attache
...more
Jill
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book when my on-line book club was looking for Japanese fiction for our monthly read. It is a lovely tale describing a young woman's journey from Europe to the Far East at the beginning of the 20th century. Based on the author's family papers, and very well written, this tale is told in the form of letters and diary entries. The details of the culture at the time are fascinating and I found myself caring about the main character from the beginning. The only difficulty is that ...more
Linda
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
I initially thought this book a bit stuffy however I quickly became absorbed in the story and the historical events of the early 20th century. The writing style provided an insight into the character of the heroine from the beginning of her journey from Scotland to China and provided some wonderful descriptions of both Chinese, Japanese culture and described attitudes towards women in this period. I felt the diary entries allowed the reader an intimate picture of Mary's changing feelings towards ...more
Venuskitten
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roberta
Apr 23, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this slow-going at times. I also found Mary MacKenzie a little aloof and I don't think the author intended that. She was quite risque for her day and for the setting in Japan. I didn't get the sense that she mourned the loss of her children at all. Maybe it was that Scottish stoicism. She didn't strike me as cold so much as just kind of blank.
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Aka Gavin Black

From Wikipedia:

Oswald Wynd (1913 – 1998) was a Scottish writer, born in Tokyo of parents who had left their native Perth to run a mission in Japan.
He attended schools in Japan where he grew up speaking both English and Japanese. In 1932 he returned with his parents to Scotland, and studied at the University of Edinburgh and began to write novels. When World War II came he joined t
...more
“Laughter between two is sometimes a closer act of love than any other.” 25 likes
“Why do we have to make such terrible decisions for our whole lives when we are too young to know what we are doing? The big mistakes are hung around your neck and you have to wear them forever.” 12 likes
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