From Publishers Weekly
A host of brittle characters populate this oblique historical novel, set in two very different locations at the same moment in history: Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration and Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Debut author Schuyler tenuously connects these settings when Ayoshi, a frantically unhappy young Japanese woman who seeks to escape her hated arranged marriage by painting memories of her old lover, sends off a painting wrapped around one of her husband's ceramic bowls. The bowls make their way to Paris, where the painting is discovered by Jorgen, a disabled mercenary soldier from Denmark sitting out the remainder of the war as a merchant's assistant. As miserable as Ayoshi, Jorgen finds himself drawn against his will to his boss's bastard sister Natalia, who has signed up to become a woman soldier. The novel shuttles back and forth between Japan and Paris, but Schuyler never develops a compelling reason to link the two periods, either in plot or in theme. The historical tragedies of Paris and Japan remain stubbornly separate, just as the characters remain unreachable, too caught up in their own webs of misery to become fully alive on the page. Schuyler opts to forgo traditional punctuation, which lends her prose a spare poetic sensibility, and relief comes from moments of almost haiku-like beauty ("She's like a slice of the moonlight") that break through the gloom.
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Art is both seductress and salve in this iridescent first novel set in late-nineteenth-century Japan and France. Desperately unhappy in her arranged marriage, young, beautiful Ayoshi retreats to her studio, where she paints erotic watercolors of a former lover. The vibrant portraits are worlds away from the colorless life she shares with her husband, Hiyashi, a government official and potter who sells his wares overseas. Ayoshi secretly wraps one of her creations around a ceramic vase bound for Europe, where it is discovered by Jorgen, a Paris merchandise shop employee who lost his leg--and his idealism--fighting in the Franco-Prussian war. The radiant image gradually transforms the jaded young Dane, prompting him to pursue brave, blue-eyed Natalia, who is determined to become a soldier. Schuyler laces her lean, lyrical prose with nuanced images of nature: the morning's "faint peach glow," " a twig of cherry blossoms, its pale pink flowers, delicate, like a newborn." A cast of secondary characters, many with their own dark secrets, adds depth and dimension to this engrossing debut. Allison BlockCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved