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Fudoki Paperback – September 9, 2004
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
This is a wonderful book, sure to appeal to fans of Patricia McKillip and Catherynne Valente, though it's more accessible than either of their work. It's very much rooted in the myths of Japan, and while I don't know a ton about the time period, nothing of what I do know was contradicted by what Johnson wrote, so I am assuming that she captured the era (Heian-era Japan I believe) with some degree of accuracy. Like in McKillip and Valente's work, this is not fantasy that lovingly details a set of rules for its magic system; it is fantasy where there are gods and there are humans and there are animals and the lines between these things are not sharp at all, where anything can happen and no one is much surprised when anything does. Logic plays a role, but it's dream logic, and the worst error to commit is in assuming that any other being's motivations match our own.
But what made this book brilliant (and caused it to be nominated for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award) is the way in which it is fundamentally a womens' fantasy. The fudoki of the cats is entirely female; there is no place for males, and none of the fudoki cares to even know the names of the toms that fathered their kittens. Harueme (this would be the aging noblewoman narrating Kagaya-hime's tale, half-sister to the former Emperor Shirakawa) also lives in an almost entirely female world, where women have husbands and lovers but their days are spent hidden from male sight (and even the seductions take place with an eye to maintaining the illusion that no man can see their faces). Harueme loved her half-brother, and reminisces about her soldier-lover Domei, but the most important relationship she has is with her attendant, Shigeko. The novel even acknowledges that women menstruate -- I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the SF/F novels that do that -- and there are elaborate (historically-based, I assume) codes of conduct built around that simple fact of life. It's a novel about women's issues: family and home and place in a society when all of those things are rigidly proscribed.
It works on a pure fantasy level too, with the cat-transformed-into-a-human element and the presence of the kami (which are a whole class of gods, not the name of a specific god as the jacket implies) and even a small war of revenge that leads to a seige; and I'm pretty sure it works as historical fiction, though as I've said I don't know very much about the time period so I can't attest to its accuracy. But it will linger in my memory because it shows a slice of life fantasy novels too often forget, not with any particular message, but just because these are stories that rarely get told. I wish there were more novels like this.
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!
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This book is two stories rolled into one.Read more