Kiyoi is thrilled when the "great master," a famous cartoonist, takes him on as a student-assistant, and from that moment his life becomes rich and exciting. There are heady discussions, festive celebrations, and above all the honor of filling in the backgrounds for the master's published cartoons. There are life drawing classes, where the new student has trouble getting used to the nude models, and horizon-expanding outings--a Van Gogh show, a demonstration that turns into a riot--with his fellow apprentice, a somewhat older youth who seems disturbingly attracted to violence. There is also the pleasure of living alone in one shabby room, and the terror of discovering, when a neighbor there takes him out on the town, that the aggressive bar girls in the sinister, dim cafe are men. Say's autobiographical novel would be vibrant and affecting even if Kiyoi's were a typical art student's existence. As it is, two unusual circumstances heighten the interest: it occurs in post-World War II Japan, which gives the experience a special texture (bean cakes and kimonos and samurai tradition coexists with the Van Gogh show, Degas reproductions, and Hesse's novels); and, though it's hard to believe his grandmother's allowing him to live alone, Kiyou is only 13 when he begins his apprenticeship, 15 when he leaves to accompany his remarried father to America. A sparkling, touch-true portrait of a young person coming into his own.