Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: Across the Nightingale Floor

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
Riverhead Books, 2002
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori Book 1 by Lian Hearn is one of the few series I am excited to follow through this year. It has everything I longed to read about in a series, yet it is neither young adult nor adult books. The librarian in me is having a difficult time placing this series in its appropriate category that in the end, I shall simply recommend this to anyone interested to expand their imagination about feudal Japan.

For one, I am fascinated by Japan like the author, who spent years researching and writing the book through a grant. I have always found Japan as an enigma and book 1 of the series, Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori has fed my appetite to know more about Japanese culture and geography. I know there are many ways to know a country and its people. Having traveled to Kyoto a few years back has been a life affirming experience. What I cannot live out, vicariously, I find fulfillment in reading books. Fiction, though a work of imagination, is capable of opening windows to another world and the world views of other peoples.

Here now are three reasons why I am swooning over Across the Nightingale Floor:

1. It has intriguing and interesting characters, heroes, villains and anti-heroes too. Takeo is tested by fate and his journey towards knowing himself and making his own decisions to fully establish his identity is still a work in progress. How much of obedience and loyalty can truly affect one person's becoming? Lord Shigeru, his adopted father dies in the end, but the respect he has earned over the years made him a legend. A classic story arc. Now I await for Takeo's turn. Will he become the tragic hero of the stories or lead a life that is marred by deceit and murder? Apart from Takeo, I also have predictions to Kaede's role in the series. Will she break the mould or continue to abide by the rules of men?

2. The setting, its place and time, and the political intrigue of feudal Japan are stuff I am so interested about. There are also poetry and art, social classes, heirarchy and the constricted rules and stringent expectations on women. These are all flavored and embedded in the lives and loves of the characters that my emotional investment in them is already waist deep!<br /><br />

3. It captures the tragic beauty of Japanese stories (what I know from reading manga, anime and watching animation by Ghibli Studio). How can such contradictions exist side by side? Joy and pain. Passion and romance. Living and dying.

What does not sink well with me is the existence of the Hidden. I have questions about their legitimacy. They are a people who worship the "secret god." As a Catholic, I recall the century when missionaries came to Japan to introduce God. I wonder what is written in the Japanese history books. Something to find out!

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