THE MASK CARVER'S SON by Alyson Richman


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An occasionally evocative if often amateurish tale of ninth-century Japan and a young painter’s longing for art and love. Kiyoki Yamamoto is the son of a formidable and famous father—the premier carver of masks for the Noh drama. Kiyoki’s artistic passion, however, is not for carving but painting, and painting in a Western style (full of color and broad strokes) that is anathema to the Japanese art establishment. Even more unusual for a Japanese artist of the time, or at least one in his family, is that Kiyoki has not renounced all emotional needs and ties; he yearns for acceptance from his stereotypically stoic father and for romantic love from—and here’s the shock that even Kiyoki can—t quite admit to himself—other men. Traveling from his small provincial village first to Tokyo and then to Paris, Kiyoki learns to paint and tries to love, yet discovers, as offspring have from time immemorial, that he is more like his father than he—d imagined, and doomed by the Greek-ly tragic nature of his family. There’s a certain comforting familiarity about Richman’s debut, although, like the biblical stories to which it’s thematically linked, it never rises beyond parable. Having lived in Japan on an academic fellowship, the 27-year-old author has clearly done her homework into the lives and times about which she writes. But the novel reads like homework, or at least like a novel made out of a dissertation by a very thorough student. Because Kiyoki never completely comes to life, his dilemmas—most notably his sexual confusion—are insufficiently developed. It’s one thing for him to emerge as a naãf, quite another when it’s his author-inventor who does. Better luck next time to a first-time author who tends to write from the brain rather than from the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-58234-063-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2000


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