A Christian, an outcast ninja, and a courtesan—outsiders in late samurai-era Nagasaki—seek new life in this historical novella.
By 1865, Christianity has spread to Japan in small pockets, and Rutu keeps the faith in secret as she searches for her sister Suzu, who has become an oiran, a kind of courtesan-entertainer. Meanwhile, Suzu’s hymns inspire her compatriot Kurenai and remind her of Naomi, an early mentor; but the songs and prayers aren’t quite enough to distract Kurenai from her woeful life in the brothel. Finally, the teenage boy Jin, an escaped ninja from a nearby region, ends up in Rutu’s care after washing up on Nagasaki’s shore. It’s Jin who later saves Kurenai from the bandits who attack her “litter” and murder Kanayama, the man who bought her for company. Once the three unite—Suzu’s plot takes her to another island and a happy ending—they begin a journey down dangerous roads in search of Jin’s mother. Yumiko’s (Isolated Connected Kyu-shu Island, 2013) handling of this three-pronged plot is sometimes effective and swift, jumping from scene to scene at just the right moments. However, many of the novella’s scenes are too brief, and the lengthy gaps of time between scenes often make for confusing storytelling. Yumiko shows off solid research, which enables her to effectively narrate a unique historical moment. Yet the result is a flat read due to repeated failures to allow readers to come to their own conclusions: “Rutu and Jin sensed that they were different, yet they were both minorities.” Still, Yumiko’s strong grasp of setting and plot suggests plenty of potential for future works.
Needs more flesh on its bones, though extensive research and complex plots are signs of good things to come.