THE HOUSE OF KANZE by Nobuko Albery


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An elegant, gentle, and rather scholarly second novel about the rise of a famous family of actors in 14th-century Japan. As the novel begins, the Kanze family--led by their mercurial master, Kiyotsugu--is wasting away in the provinces, touring obscure villages (doing the ""mud road,"" they call it) and waiting for the big break that will take them to the bright lights of the capital of Kyoto. It finally comes when the famous dancer Omina teaches Kiyotsugu a wild, robust form of dance called kuze, which he then combines with the more sedate sarugaku drama--the result catches on like wildfire, and Kiyotsugu and his troupe are invited to Kyoto to perform before the young Shogun Yoshimitsu--a performance which is such a success that Kiyotsugu is named a Companion-in-Arts to Yoshimitsu, and the Kanzes are now the premier dramatic family in Japan. The focus now shifts to Kiyotsugu's brilliant young son, Zeami, who becomes the second master of the Kanze family after his father's murder by jealous rivals. Zeami is the lover and favorite of Yoshimitsu, who suddenly finds himself unable to act (literally freezing in mid-performance) and exiles himself to a monastery, where for five long years he searches for purity. Yoshimitsu himself finally tracks him down and begs him to come back; when he does, Zeami has written a number of brilliant plays (which survive to this day). After Yoshimitsu dies, Zeami falls out of favor at the court, and is exiled at the age of 70 to the island of Sado. Albery's story at times has an academic feel to it, since she's so concerned with historical accuracy--the text is footnoted, for instance, and each of the main characters has several different names--but this novel (like Albery's first, Balloon Top, 1978) is lovely, delicate, and leisurely reading--and a must for anyone interested in the development of Japanese drama.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster