THE SUNKEN TEMPLE by Satoko Kizaki


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From the author of the stories in The Phoenix Tree (1990), a somewhat overwrought exploration of the tensions between passion and obedience in a Buddhist setting. Over a summer, the emotions and frustrations that had been long repressed in the households attached to the Buddhist Pure Land Temple of a small fishing town break out in tragic and unexpected ways. Yuko, the senior priest's wife, has retreated more and more into the temple grounds, cutting herself off from the outside world, because she is ""painfully aware of a deep emptiness and unease that had been lying dormant inside her for years."" She is also worried about her son, Harumitsu, the young priest and Temple heir, who has studied art and classical guitar in Tokyo and shows signs of wanting to live abroad rather than carry out his hereditary religious duties. And in another temple household, adolescent Shoji, after a childhood spent in Tokyo with his mother and stepfather, is adjusting to living with his real father, the assistant-priest. Unhappy at being sent away by his mother, and preoccupied with the recent death of his elder brother, Shoji is cheered by a burgeoning friendship with Akemi. Akemi, a high-school student and Nob actress, is the daughter of a wealthy fishing family; she is also deeply in love with Harumitsu. The catalyst for the inevitable tragedy is provided by the arrival of mysterious Chikoni, also the daughter of a priest. A gifted seer, believed to be able to change herself into a snake -- a benign being that signifies rain -- she too falls deeply in love with Harumitsu. It is their love affair that precipitates the crises that will bring about death and mutilation. An evocative setting and premise, but themes that are handled with a heavy and schematic hand. Disappointing.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: "Kodansha -- dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux"