Two starkly beautiful narratives, spare and strange.

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THE TEMPLE OF THE WILD GEESE and BAMBOO DOLLS OF ECHIZEN

TWO NOVELLAS

First English translation of a pair of novellas by a masterful Japanese author.

Mizukami (1919–2004) writes in a spare style, so the novellas’ emotions are just-beneath-the-surface-subtle. They do not share characters, but they’re thematically related. Both focus on outsiders whose alienation is symbolized by their strange, nearly grotesque physical appearance. In The Temple of the Wild Geese, a Zen priest named Jikai enters a relationship with Satoko after her lover dies. Jikai, a man of prodigious sexuality, is also the mentor of Jinen, an apprentice priest at the temple and covert admirer of Satoko. Jinen is malformed, with a thin body and huge head, and Satoko finds herself in equal measure attracted and repelled by him. One night they become lovers, and Jinen’s seething resentment about the way the older priest treats Satoko leads to a murderous explosion. Bamboo Dolls of Echizen is the tender tale of Kisuke, an expert craftsman who discovers that his recently deceased father had a secret life involving Tamae, a prostitute. Diminutive Kisuke, only four feet tall, gradually feels love for Tamae and persuades her to marry him, but with one striking proviso: that they not engage in sex. He sees her much more as a mother figure than as a lover. As Kisuke develops his skill in carving bamboo dolls, his fame spreads far beyond the small village of Echizen, eventually drawing the attention of the head clerk of a doll shop in Kyoto, Chubei, who was involved with Tamae when she was a prostitute. Just as Tamae begins to accommodate herself to her semi-wifely, semi-motherly role with Kisuke, the unthinkable, but perhaps inevitable, happens. She has a night of passion with Chubei, finds herself pregnant and, feeling guilty, tries to keep this knowledge from her husband. The story then takes a dramatic (verging on melodramatic) turn with the tragic resolution of Tamae’s pregnancy.

Two starkly beautiful narratives, spare and strange.

Pub Date: March 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-56478-490-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2008

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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