The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe is a history of the Japanese cherry blossom tree and the man who obsessively studied and cultivated them, Collingwood Ingram.
I think it is a very special kind of book. This is all in one: a personal story, a history lesson, a culture overview and a complicated and compelling life of pure dedication. I believe that the author made a tremendous job building a high-level picture of the world. World history and aspects of different times, the impact of small and big events on the world in general and the cherry tree in specifics. And Ingram was living as a part of that history.
He fell in love with the tree during his first visit to Japan. And even though his original calling was studying birds, he later chose the cherry tree and became obsessed with it. “His methods required knowledge of plant physiology, nimble fingers and a degree of dexterity that came from years of practice.” Abe wrote. Just the way Ingram was talking about the cherry tree is impressive: “A moon of unsurpassable brilliance flooded the silent landscape with a cruel glare of greenish light, which traced sharp inky shadows of the trees on the rounded white folds. The snow crystals caught and reflected the moonlight upon a myriad facets until I appeared to be walking in a world of sparkling diamonds. The frightful stillness of the woodland at midnight was almost startling – everything seemed to be frost-bound and nerveless. Even the icy air seemed frozen into immobility. The crisp crunch of my footfall appeared to be an unpardonable intrusion, while the scars they made upon the smooth field of scintillating white seemed a positive sacrilege.” Later on, he will be one of the key keepers of knowledge around cherry trees and will publish work that lists different varieties of cherry blossom trees, Which is still a significant work in the world of gardeners and cherry tree lovers around the world.
Also, Abe writes elegantly so that you can feel the culture even in the words and the flow of thought. The book is a great reflection of the culture of Japan, specifically when it comes to the symbolics of the cherry blossom. You can feel the history of a tree. A tree that was first cared for by a lowing nation then was almost lost due to big natural disasters, then became a war flower, a kamikaze flower, and then a flower of hope and peace, and freedom. The way it is all described is so well written it almost feels like a novel.
“The cherry blossom was ephemeral, like life itself,” it says.
“In the snowy mountains of Gifu Prefecture in central Japan, an impassioned gardener explained how he and his colleagues were keeping alive a 1,500-year-old tree, the world’s second-oldest cherry.” And this is all a representation of their dedication to a cherry blossom tree.
While consuming the book many small and more complex feelings and thoughts came into my mind. Like:
- That being proud can get your best treasures lost in time
- That real beauty requires a tremendous amount of effort from someone, but it also requires a lot of friends and cooperation
- That, no matter what, but the impact of such level, such an obsession and results could be only achieved by a wealthy person, who is not thinking daily about food and where to the get the money from
- That losing respect and freedom after having it for granted can be devastating and take away all love from a person
- That war is similarly ugly in all areas of the word
- That a word "sakura" is actually pronounced with the stress on the 2nd syllabus in English:)
And many other things. And I thank the author greatly for it.