From Goodreads: 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 examines the power and limitations of female talent in our globalized world.
This story is told in three different time periods. The first, and my favorite, is Japan in the 1950s. Satomi lives with her single mother over the izakaya, or bar her mother owns. Satomi at 11 is a gifted pianist and her mother works hard and pushes Satomi to take her gift as far as she can. Her mother tell her “…there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably, and masterfully, talented.”
This is one of those rare books for me that I really liked even though I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters. While I could understand some of the motivation behind Atsuko, Satomi’s mother, she’s a rather cold mother and some of the choice she makes really bothered me. She marries in order to provide Satomi with the schooling she needs to be a concert pianist and then proceeds to push Satomi away from her. Satomi is young girl just trying to please her mother and to get her mother’s approval. And this is the section of the book where I like her most. At times she’s selfish and competitive but I still saw the girl who was trying to find her place. Then, unfortunately she makes some very poor choices and ends up with some not so good guys and things go down hill fast. By the end of the first section she’s living in America with a man she doesn’t love and a little baby to care for.
The second section of the book picks up with Satomi’s daughter Rumi. Living in San Fransisco with her father Francois and paying for her mother’s poor choices. This is where I started to not enjoy the characters. The men in the book are ineffectual at best and extremely creepy and dubious at worst. I didn’t like either Francois (Rumi’s father) and I really didn’t like Snowden, a family friend who sends Rumi on her journey to find out more about her past.
The third and final section take place back in Japan, where Rumi flees to follow a ghost (an actual ghost, but don’t worry it works in the story) to find out more about her past and the mysteries surrounding her mother. There are bits of this section where it just gets odd and I had a hard time with all the characters and how they acted. But, at least it was an interesting weird, if you know what I mean?
Here’s what I liked about this books. It’s steeped with a culture I know very little about but find very interesting. It’s full of magical realism (a term I’m just getting to know but turns out I like this kind of book-where I used to think I didn’t). Both Satomi and Rumi see ghosts. Rumi even follows a ghost from San Fransisco to Japan to find out what it’s trying to tell her. Rumi can hear objects speak to hear, like musical instruments, they tell her about their lives and history.
The story is also filled with insight into the Japanese culture and attitudes. Mockett fills the story with facts about both the Buddhist and Shinto religions. So, while I didn’t really care some of the characters (and I really disliked the most the men) I did enjoy this book and look forward to seeing what Mutsuki Mockett writes next.
Another thing The Book Girl. at For the Love of Books, asked in my Wondrous Words Wednesday post if having to look up words detracts from the reading experience. And I’d have to say, for at least the last few, the answer would be no. I’ve had words, and more than a few, in this story, the Maisie Dobbs series, and another book I’ll be reviewing-When We Were Strangers I didn’t know. I’m usually able to glean what the words means in its context, so I’ll mark the page with a post-it (yes, I’m just that geeky and keep post-its with my book) then look it up later to see if I was right and find out the exact meaning. Every now and then I’ll have to stop to look up the word and that doesn’t really seem to bother me either. I know it’s easier to do with e-books because they offer a look-up feature. I guess this is another plus of e-readers, though I’m still not feeling the love for them. So, I guess the quick answer is, I haven’t found it to be a problem and I’m really enjoying actually learning new words.
I received this book from Greywolf Press for an online discussion hosted by Nicole at Linus’s Blanket and Jen at Devourer of Books. If you’ve read the book or just find it interesting head over to Linus’s Blanket and read the comments this was a really good discussion. Be warned though, there are spoilers. Thanks to Nicole, Jen, and Greywolf for the great read.