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The Fox Woman Paperback – February 3, 2001
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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In Western fairy tales, we've got the werewolf, the man who changes into a wolf. But in the East, it's the fox who does the changing, into a man--or, more often, a sensuous, seductive woman. In her skillful debut, Kij Johnson takes this classic Japanese myth (based in large part on a Royall Tyler translation of a particular story) and spins it into a luminous, lyrical tale, a tender and whisper-quiet study of love, desire, joy, and the nature of the soul.
The Fox Woman follows two families, one of foxes and another of humans. The restless Kaya no Yoshifuji fails to receive an appointment in the Emperor's court and, distracted and seemingly unfazed, decides to relocate to a rural estate to pass a pensive winter, accompanied by his wife Shikujo and son Tadamaro. But a young fox named Kitsune and her brother, mother, and grandfather have set up their den in the run-down estate, and soon the fate of both families becomes intertwined; Yoshifuji becomes bewitched by the foxes, and Kitsune in turn falls in love with him, much to the distress of all others involved, especially Shikujo.
Johnson tells her tale in measured, intimate passages, through Kitsune's diary, Yoshifuji's notebook, and Shikujo's pillow book. The rich, truthful depiction of the Heian-era setting, punctuated by exchanges of poetry and steeped in emotive descriptions of both the fox and human worlds, establishes a still, meditative, and rewarding pace. With her thoughtful ear, Johnson offers a mature and knowing first effort. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
HAn expansion of Johnson's acclaimed story "Fox Magic," this moving novel is based on a ninth-century Japanese fairy tale. Depressed by his failures in the emperor's court, Kaya no Yoshifuji brings his wife, Shikujo, and his eight-year-old son back to his remote country estate. There Kitsune, a young fox-woman, sees him and falls in love with him. Through the diaries of the three main characters, we see that as Yoshifuji's sadness drives him away from his wife, he finds himself strangely obsessed with the family of foxes in his garden. This obsession terrifies Shikujo, who has disturbing memories of a fox-man who once appeared in her dreams. Later, when Shikujo returns to the capital to try to salvage her son's career in the imperial court, Kitsune and her family use fox-magic to create an idyllic imitation of the human world, into which they lure Yoshifuji. He believes the illusion and marries Kitsune. But in this fairy tale, marriage does not end happily ever after. Kitsune fears that Yoshifuji will someday see that his beautiful human wife is in fact a fox, their house a hole in the ground and their dainty food mice and insects. It is clear that the precarious illusion will soon unravel. A meditation on poetry, ritual and humanity, Johnson's fairy tale is a literate, magical and occasionally grotesque love story. Yoshifuji and Shikujo often communicate with each other through poetry; beautiful haikus and wakas provide intense glimpses into their characters. Steeped in historical detail, Johnson's prose is uncommonly musical; it captures the atmosphere of Japan's old courts while avoiding ostentation. This is only Johnson's first novel, but it establishes her as one of SF's most remarkable stylists. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The Fox Woman takes the form of an epistolary novel, with the events and--more significantly--the internal development of the characters being developed through the journal entries of Kaya no Yoshifuji, his wife, Shikujo, and Kitsune, a little fox who is infatuated with Yoshifuji. The story develops slowly, rather like a tree awakening into bloom. While some readers seem to have been put off by this oblique development, I find that it gives breathing space for the characters, a narrative legitimacy, and helps give the reader time to realize that the real nature of this novel is not that of a neatly plotted series of events, but rather more a meditation upon the realities of our own lives, our fantasies ritualized into legitimacy, our own courteous lies and kindnesses.
The characters in this book are not heroic. Nor are they idealized. Yoshifuji has failed at court, and he is increasingly distant from his wife and son. Kitsune, his wife, who takes as her models the idealized characters of monogatari tales, is ever-perfect in her wifely courtesy, and unintentionally aloof in her perfection. The fox woman, herself, is not treated with the light hand of the fantasist, but is constantly faced with the all too real consequences of her actions. One reviewer [ goo.gl/lEVf ] expressed a desire "to stab all of the characters in the eye with sharpened sticks," for their sin of irritating the reader. Others have indicted the characters of the crime of dullness. I think these readers are missing the point. Yoshifuji, Shikujo, and Kitsune act as we act, think as we think, dream as we dream. They are guilty of being infected with our own misguided mediocrity. If we recognize our kinship to them, we stand to gain from their painful if fictional lives. If we stand over them, accusing them, failing to recognize how we are never very far from their delusional mendacity, then we will continue to live as they lived-fictional lives, built on a thin and failing glamour, doomed to face the truth only when there is no less painful delusion in which to escape.
Kij Johnson gives us beauty and sensitivity. She gives us a chance to see some small way into the truth of our lives, and she does so gently and without judgment. In this, she gives us a gift worthy of reverence.
[Originally posted at [...] ( goo.gl/Ghh9 ).]
When Kaya No Yoshifuji and his family move to the capital, it upsets two sets of lives, those of his family and those of the family of foxes that have been living underneath the unused country house. Kitsune, the fox, looks on these strangers with a sense of longing and wonder, unable to understand their human ways. Soon her obsession reflects in Yoshifuji, who becomes obsessed with the foxes living near his home. As Kitsune's obsession grows, she falls in love with Yoshifuji and seeks to use fox-magic to transform herself into a woman to obtain his love.
Woven into the story is a wonderful collection of poetry. Yoshifuji and his wife trade poems in a custom that is difficult for Kitsune to understand. So it may also be for the readers of fantasy who are not well-versed in reading poetry. Yet, readers should neither ignore nor underestimate these lines. The simple words are beautiful, as the poem that Yoshifuji writes on the surface of a fan his wife left behind: "The spider's web can catch the moonlight, / but cannot keep it."
The poetry is an intricate part of the novel, not only for its beauty but also for its importance within the story. Yet, it is not only the poetry within the novel that keeps the reader entranced, but the poetry of the novel. The lives of the characters are reflected in the seasons, their surroundings, and even in the spider web that Yoshifuji refuses to have swept away from his room. The novel reminds the reader of the poetry of life, and the beauty that exists in all things.
Kij Johnson does a masterful job of writing a fantasy story that is a love story, a fable, and a poem. As her first novel, it is a wonderful promise of things to come.
I had found this book when searching for fox and other mythological and magical animal tales on a whim. I read a few passages from the sample; and fell in love with reading for the first time in a very long time. Much of my reading material at the time were text books that thus added to the dry and gray world that I was trudging through during the last year of college. The Fox Woman painted a beautiful world through poetic writing that I had not seen from any other book I have ever read. This book, to me at least, held the elegant mysticism I was looking for.
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