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Picking Bones from Ash: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Marie Mutsuki Mockett
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Macmillan
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Book Description

Ghosts lurk in the bamboo forest outside the tiny northern Japanese town where Satomi lives with her elusive mother, Atsuko. A preternaturally gifted pianist, Satomi wrestles with inner demons. Her fall from grace is echoed in the life of her daughter, Rumi, who unleashes a ghost she must chase from foggy San Francisco to a Buddhist temple atop Japan's icy Mount Doom. In sharp, lush prose, Picking Bones from Ash - by Marie Mutsuki Mockett - examines the power and limitations of female talent in our globalized world.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this ambitious debut, the narration alternates between Satomi, a Japanese girl pushed by her mother to make her mark on the world, and Rumi, Satomi's American daughter who grows up in the mid-late 1960s believing her mother is dead. The novel is strongest at the beginning, as Satomi tells of her postwar childhood in a small Japanese village, the only girl without a father and the only girl with a talent: she is going to be a world-famous concert pianist. After her mother remarries, Satomi goes away to music school and, later, to Paris to perfect her craft. In Paris and back in Japan, Satomi falls in with the Western antique dealers who will eventually take her to the United States after her mother dies. The second half switches between the stories of Satomi and Rumi, who develops a skill at reading Asian antiques and begins to wonder about her mother when an old friend of her parents re-enters her life. Rumi's quest to unravel her tricky family history is absorbing, and even if it lacks the simple beauty of Satomi's coming-of-age narrative, Mockett succeeds where many others fail: making the reader care. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A book of intelligence and heart.” —AMY TAN

“Deeply preoccupied with girls, talent, and power.” —MAUD NEWTON

“The best elements of a mystery story, ghost story, magical realism and the complex difficulties in deciding what is ‘best’ for our elders and offspring.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Picking Bones from Ash], so firmly anchored in a sensuous reality, veers into a dream world. A reader has the sense that even the author was driven by her most powerful character: the original mother, raising her daughter alone, shunned by villagers, forced to make decisions that haunt her descendants.” —Los Angeles Times

Product Details

  • File Size: 804 KB
  • Print Length: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (February 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004K1ERYK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,587 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This author has a real talent in story telling and what a great first novel. The author offers her characters as teachers in telling us a wonderful story of life past and present, transporting us over 50 years of the beautiful traditions of Japan; and regardless of our geographic location, our ancestrial past continues to have an imprint on our lives. The story was more a mystery within a mystery, which the author did a brilliant job in keeping the reader focused and intensely intrigued with each turn of the page; but remained faithful to fold back the mist and allowing us see for ourselves that life is complicated and that we have choices in how we choose to live, but above all Love prevails. Told from many people's perspective, which added bounce, depth and intrigue to each of the key characters. I loved the novel for the mystery and then the reveal. If you loved the Joy Luck Club then you will love this book. This novel is made for a movie!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mothers and daughters find solace July 24, 2010
The first half of the story begins in Japan in the mid 1950s. The main character of the story is Satomi, and she relives the teachings and life advice from her mother Akiko. The author depicts the colorful and rich heritage of Japanese culture, and the reader will enjoy the scenes being painted by the story. Satomi realizes that she is special, and understands the burdens that come along with being different. Satomi's mother was scorned in their village, the other women were jealous of Akiko because she knew too much about men, and they were threatened by those secrets that she held. Satomi was raised with superstitions, and was always on the lookout for demons meant to steal her soul.

Satomi begins piano lessons and wins local contests with her talent. She finds that mysterious men are her benefactors and she is shunned by other women because of this fact. Her mother relents and gets married to make a better life for Satomi. The story then shifts to when she meets Timothy Snowden, moves to Paris and begins a new life. When Timothy disappears, Satomi must find a new life for herself and discover what she will do to make her mark on the world.

The second half of the story focuses on Rumi, Satomi's American daughter. Rumi and her father Francis are in San Francisco in the 1980s, where Rumi sees Snowden and continues to hear the voice of her lost mother.

The reader will find the characters less interesting in the second half of the story. It may be difficult to keep up with the characters and the storyline, since there are new characters and their new motivations that are never quite explained. The best parts of the story are when the mothers and daughters react to their mothers, to the advice that proves right, and to the aspects of their lives that they cannot anticipate. It is a story that is best read consistently through, not one to pick up and put down for very long.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing is as it seems to be. August 30, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Satomi is a female character that is difficult to like. Self absorbed and stubborn she suffered her mother's demands with grace. Things in the story are not what they seem to be. Are the antiques real or fake? Are they legal or stolen? The tale is like the masks that the Japanese people wear, some wear real and freightening masks for festivals and some just facial expressions that hide thoughts and emotions. Satomi and Rumi each put forth great effort to please their one single parent. Both struggle with their identities, seeking to know who their parents are and who they themselves wish to be. Each has to escape from the parent to learn their true identity. Each struggles in her relationship with men; each does not know who to trust and maybe she should trust none of them. The second half of the book seems greatly removed from the first. The first half seems grounded in tedious reality while the second incorporates the supernatural and fantasy.
I have traveled in Japan several times. It is a fascinating and beautiful place. The people are interesting although you don't get to know them easily. In spite of it's modern face, much of Japan still is rooted in mystic tradition. Picking Bones from Ashes shows both sides of Japan's culture beautifully.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Picking Bones from Ash is a wonderful story, containing mysteries and ghosts, ancient Buddhas and modern Japan, antiques and backpacking travellers. The story begins with Satomi, a spunky girl with a talent for music. Raised by her single mother, she isn't easily accepted in small town Japan. When her mother remarries, she feels abandoned. Not long after, she sets off to Paris to study music. There, she meets an intriguing westerner - Timothy Snowden. She becomes wrapped up in his life and eventually finds herself more at home in the West than the East. Later the story continues with her daughter, Rumi, who has a talent for reading objects - specifically Asian antiques - and makes a living in San Francisco as an antique dealer. One day she travels to Japan to seek her mother. The two womens' stories entwine and reflect one another.

The description of this book doesn't do it justice. I left this for last of all my reviews, and it turned out much more interesting than I expected. The sharp contrast between Part One and Part Two really took me by surprise and bothered me at the time - it felt so abrupt. But it was necessary to create a mystery. The author tied it all together by the end.

I can give this book no higher praise than saying that I gave up sleep to read it. You see, I have been reading while I feed my son during the night. Usually we are up three times a night. Reasonably, I should only read while he eats and then go back to bed. Instead, I would find myself continuing to read this book, while my son dreams away on my chest.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost my interest in the last 1/4 of the book
Truly a 3+. I enjoyed the premise of this book but not the last quarter of this story line. I don't know what I was expecting but I kinda lost interest in it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Disneykathie
3.0 out of 5 stars The writing was good and the exploration of Buddhism and Shintoism...
I would probably give this three and a half stars if that rating was available. The writing was good and the exploration of Buddhism and Shintoism within the Japanese culture was... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Linda Apton
5.0 out of 5 stars rich story-telling
magical details, strange gifts, lost loves. she captures cultural, generational and gender divides. Compellig --- finished this in a single day.
Published 8 months ago by Phoebe Wong
1.0 out of 5 stars Went nowhere to the end
Sorry, this story went nowhere and the ending proved it. Nothing was tied up, an agony to get through, but I kept reading hoping the characters would come alive a good ending or... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Missy B
4.0 out of 5 stars I like the cultural references
Very interesting book. Lots of twists and turns that keep you turning the pages. I like the cultural references, it is fun to learn about other cultures and heritages. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Julie Drucker
5.0 out of 5 stars "When there are secrets, the flower exists..."
This story can be read as a mystery story or it can be read as a coming of age story in postwar Japan or it can be read as an exploration of interactions between mothers and... Read more
Published on January 12, 2013 by Catherine A Holt
5.0 out of 5 stars Picking Bones from Ash.
Thoroughly enjoyed the journey I was taken on!! I was pleased to be able to relate to some of the experiences.
Published on November 29, 2012 by Bruce Hardy
4.0 out of 5 stars BookClub Find
I read Picking Bones from Ash as part of Book Club. I don't think I would have otherwise heard of this novel and that would have been a shame because I loved it. Read more
Published on April 21, 2011 by Literate Housewife
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and almost-haunting novel about mothers & daughters.
"Here we are. A girl without a mother and a girl with too much of a mother. Which, I wonder, would most people rather be? One inherits history. Read more
Published on March 3, 2011 by Roxanne
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to Follow
Beginning in Japan in the mid 1950's, Picking Bones from Ash relays the story of Satomi as she comes to understand the teachings of her mother, Akiko. Read more
Published on August 26, 2010 by Clevelander83
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More About the Author

Marie Mutsuki Mockett Marie was born in Carmel, California to a Japanese mother and American father. Her debut novel, Picking Bones from Ash, was shortlisted for the 2010 Saroyan Prize, the Asian American Literary Awards for Fiction and was a Finalist for the Paterson Prize. She has been awarded scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and Napa Valley Writers Conference and was the recipient of the 2013 NEA/Japan US Friendship Commission Fellowship. Additional work has been published in the New York Times, Salon, Glamour, National Geographic, Agni, NPR and other publications. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and son.

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