Johnson, Kij. Fudoki
As the half-sister, aunt, and great grand-aunt respectively of the last three Japanese Emperors, the princess Harueme has lived a very long, very privileged life. Now elderly and dying, she is preparing to leave the court for a convent. This necessitates the packing up or destroying of her lifetime of belongings. In this process, she comes upon a stack of empty notebooks and feels compelled to fill them. Harueme’s story begins as a monogatari tale, or traditional Japanese epic, about a young female cat whose entire feline family is killed, sending her on a long, mythic journey across Japan. In the course of this journey, a kami, or spirit, changes the cat into a girl. But as Harueme writes her story, a story about a life so very different from her own sheltered and carefully pruned existence, she begins interspersing reflections and memories of her own long life and the many ways her life has both fulfilled and disappointed her. The two stories weave together to create a vivid, gloriously textured view of both Japanese traditional folklore and 12th century Japanese culture.
Gorgeously written, with two compelling main characters in the tamed princess Harueme and the untamable cat-girl, Fudoki is luminous and absorbing. Highly recommended.