In Dilloway’s third novel (The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, 2012, etc.), two estranged sisters wonder what they can learn from a 12th-century female samurai.
Rachel and Drew Snow grew up in an unusual household. Their American father, Killian, had purchased their Japanese mother, Hikari, through a mail-order-bride catalog. Rachel always resented her father’s domineering ways; he turned Hikari into a submissive housewife and expected complete obedience from his daughters. Now in their 30s, the sisters rarely talk, and their family is permanently fractured. Their mother is suffering from dementia and living in a nursing home, Killian is battling Rachel for power of attorney so that he can put his wife in a cheaper home, and Drew is adrift, without a steady job or relationship. Only Rachel, happily married with two children, seems to have her life together. That is, until her mother, in a rare moment of lucidity, tells Rachel she must find a special book she left for the girls, a book about the legendary woman samurai Tomoe Gozen. Rachel enlists Drew’s help to find the book and get it translated. As they embark on this project together, burdened by years of conflict, hurt feelings and an impossible desire to know more about their mysterious mother, Drew and Rachel discover, in each other and in themselves, a power they didn’t know they had—a power to heal, to forgive and become sisters once again. Alternating with Rachel and Drew’s story is the story of Tomoe Gozen and her unlikely friendship with her lover’s wife, Yamabuki. In the hands of a less experienced novelist, this format might have become trite, but the two narratives don’t draw obvious parallels. The ways in which Rachel and Drew learn from Tomoe and Yamabuki and apply those lessons to their own lives are unexpected and ultimately satisfying.
In this enjoyable novel, imperfect and at times unlikable women become lovable.