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Fudoki Hardcover – October 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Johnson's mesmerizing second fantasy based on Japanese myth surpasses her inspired debut, The Fox Woman (2000). As the half-sister, aunt and great-grandaunt of the last three Japanese emperors, respectively, the princess Harueme has lived a long life of privilege at court, but now she is dying and must go to a convent. While sorting through her belongings, she comes across several blank notebooks, and a "blank notebook demands words." To fill them, Harueme spins the tale of a nameless tortoiseshell cat living in a ramshackle estate in the capital. When a fire raging through the city destroys the estate, the cat is the only survivor. Her aunts and cousins having been killed, she is bereft of her fudoki the chronicle of all the female cats who have inhabited her home. Homeless and nameless, she sets out on a journey that will take her to humanity and back, and earn her a name both as the Cat Who Survived and as Kagaya-hime, woman warrior. The author interweaves the story Harueme tells with Harueme's own, equally absorbing tale. To call Johnson a stylist is to call Michael Jordan a basketball player each word and phrase glitters gemlike on the page. This tale of life and dying, of love and humanity, soars with feline grace.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The successor to The Fox Woman (2000) is set in the same Japanese-myth-influenced universe and just as charming. It is the story of a tortoiseshell cat who has lost her (feline) family in a fire in the imperial capital. Now only she knows the tales and traditions of her clan. So she sets off on a journey, during which she encounters a kami of the roads, who gives her a new shape, that of a human, without removing her feline soul. The cat-souled woman becomes the warrior Kagaya-hime amid the intrigues of early twelfth-century Japan. Her story is a tale within a tale, for it is framed by the story of Princess Harueme, who tells the cat's tale, and whose life is hedged about by the restrictions of the imperial court. Now, old and dying, Harueme finds, first, relief, and then, renewed interest in the world as she sorts through her possessions and her memories. And in the end, Kagaya-hime sends the princess on a journey. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In Fudoki, I was impressed with her writing overall. Her narrative frame, where the story moves between the dying princess and the warrior cat, was extremely well done, and I felt like what I had been wanting in the first book had borne fruit in this book.
The rich storytelling was wonderful to read, leaving one, at the end, unsure who was real and who was only telling a tale. A mind locked in a palace versus a cat who bitterly becomes human and find her way... both were compelling and necessary components, fueled with Heian Japanese historical detail and a reader's investment in the character's development. Her sensual writing style was well used in this story, better controlled than in her first book, and beautifully carried by the tale.
I bought it on a whim, but I'm glad that Johnson didn't disappoint. I look forward to her other books being of the same caliber or better!
But once I got past the slow pace, I was really impressed with this as a contemplation on place—the idea of one's social place, place as a physical location and the intersection of these ideas that construct our sense of ourselves (Fudoki). Harueme is a princess—daughter, grandaughter, sister and aunt to emperors. But this same high rank (place in society) is a prison of sort, keeping her in her place dreaming of being free, of seeing the world and new places. She is never allowed to escape her place, physical or cultural. While simultaneously, Hime is a cat who has lost her Fudoki, her place and therefore the sense and understand of self that it provided. She spends the whole book looking for a place to be her and her own.
If you're looking for a contemplative read and have any interest in 11th century Japanese culture I recommend picking this one up.
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This book is two stories rolled into one.Read more