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Shimoda (365 Views of Mt. Fuji: Algorithms of the Floating World, not reviewed), a third-generation Japanese-American, again tells his story with calligraphic marginalia and reveals scientific aspects of the plot in parallel italic paragraphs about neuroscience.

Although the marginalia of 365 Views, Shimoda’s debut novel, baffled some, many found it useful and entertaining. The marginalia here enlightens us about the story, although this isn’t clear until the plot finally smoothes out into a tight knit. Kiichi Shimano, an aging calligraphy teacher who has founded his own Zenzen school (and his own Zen calligraphic style) in San Francisco, comfortingly saddened by a lost love affair, suffers a stroke that takes away his power of speech and rational thought. But we have literally watched him teach calligraphy (Zen means Nothing—“Try not to think,” he says), and he still wields a surreal power of communication in the eloquence of his unthinking brushwork. The fourth treasure of the title is the Daizen Inkstone passed down through the centuries to winners of calligraphy competitions. Shimano has taken it from Kyoto and kept it himself. Other parallels tell of Shimano’s early years as a teacher in Kyoto while we follow the trials of Berkeley student and neuroscientist Tina Suzuki, who finds the gifted but stricken Shimano a golden subject for neuronal research in her Brain and Behavior Studies. Further parallel to the mystery of Shimano’s neurons is the story of Tina’s mother, a single parent with MS who keeps a scandalous past under wraps from her daughter. Is her secret tied to calligraphy and lost love? Is Shimano a more intimate ideal test subject than Tina knows? Is healing ki (life force) a scientific reality—and better than marijuana for MS?

Eternal quintessence in art and science.

Pub Date: April 16th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-50352-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002