Although her story is hamstrung by an episodic and gangly narrative structure, Oei’s quandary will resonate with female...

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THE PRINTMAKER'S DAUGHTER

The gifted daughter of a 19th-century Japanese artist chafes at her society’s restrictions on women.

Based on exhaustive research into the life of famed painter and printmaker Hokusai, this novel postulates that much of his work, particularly in his dotage, was actually that of his daughter and chief protégée, Oei. Born in 1800 in Edo (now Tokyo), Oei is her father’s favorite, and his only child displaying a talent for drawing equal to his own. Oei follows her father to the Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo, where he sketches the courtesans. Among these is Shino, a noblewoman sold into prostitution as punishment for some unknown transgression. Shino becomes Hokusai’s mistress and teaches the young Oei manners and martial arts. After Shino marries, Hokusai and Oei travel throughout Japan and Hokusai becomes obsessed with the sea, which will be the subject of his best-known masterpiece, Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Never considered pretty (her prominent jaw earns her the nickname Ago-Ago, or chin-chin), Oei attracts lovers with her wit and talent and charms a Dutch art connoisseur. A brief marriage ends in divorce because Oei eschews housework and smokes and drinks sake like a man. For Hokusai, family exists only to serve his art. After his other children (and wives) either flee or die, Oei becomes her father’s sole partner and caregiver. Their fortunes wax and wane with the vagaries of artistic fashion, not to mention the caprices of the ruling Shogun and his censors. Among their bestselling products are Beauties, scrolls depicting life among the courtesans, and shunga—pornography. As Hokusai ages (his life-span extends to an unheard-of, for that period, 90), he suffers from palsy, and Oei acts as his ghost-painter. While symbiotically joined to her father, Oei wonders if, after helping to prolong her father’s life, she will ever have her own.

Although her story is hamstrung by an episodic and gangly narrative structure, Oei’s quandary will resonate with female artists today.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-200036-1

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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