All is fair in love and war. Sure, it's a cliche, but it's constantly acquiring new resonance.
A noteworthy case in point is Tan Twan Eng's "The Gift of Rain." A good chunk of this glorious novel, a nominee for last year's Booker Prize, takes place during World War II. But what it reveals about the human capacity for acceptance and grace, even under the most trying conditions, transcends time and circumstance.
The focal relationship in "Rain" is as deep, sensual and uncompromising as any romantic or military union, though it doesn't really qualify as either. It is 1939 and Philip Hutton, the only child of a British trader and his late Chinese wife, is 16 and living in Penang when he meets a mysterious Japanese diplomat.
Hayato Endo, or Endo-san, as Philip calls him, soon forms an intense bond with the teenager. He teaches Philip his language and imparts key aspects of his cultural and spiritual traditions, including the complex, rigorous art of aikido. …