By: Katherine Govier
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: November 2011
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: November 7, 2011
A Japanese printmaker by the name of Hokusai is responsible for fantastic works such as The Great Wave, and Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, yet he is barely known by the free world. Another who is very rarely heard of is his third daughter, Oei - a tremendous artist in her own right who lived in 19th century Tokyo and saw some of the most incredible things imaginable.
Oei sees her father as the ‘Old Man.’ He’s more than a bit rude, a little annoying, has his head in the clouds most of the time, yet he is her star. She loves and understands her father more than anyone else does, and stands by him during his triumphs and tragedies.
The world they live in is difficult. Shogun rules during what was called a Benevolent Regime, but the laws and regulations they had in place were mostly brutal, and even effected the printmakers like her father. In fact, at the beginning of our story, shogun pronounced that all books would be censored - from children’s picture books to artistry of the prostitutes - everything would be looked over with a fine-toothed comb and, if they didn’t like it, it didn’t get printed. In addition, the author or artist may just find themselves down at the jail being brutalized.
Oei finds herself by her father’s side as he looks for work while trying to keep that “I don’t care” attitude about all things. He is a printmaker and his art is the most important thing to him. Oei gets caught up in the world of courtesans. In fact, one becomes her true friend. A girl by the name of Shino, who most say is too ugly to make money from the men, becomes a companion to little Oei. The courtesans are beyond interesting, telling it like it is in the strange and sometimes evil world they live in. They live and work at the Corner Tamaya, and they are so funny and intelligent that Oei finds a soft spot in her heart for each and every one.
Oei’s father is even a bit flustered with Shino. He wants to paint her, being that she is a true ‘lady’ and certainly far above any courtesan that he has ever seen. And she is. There is something about Shino that simply doesn’t fit in with the courtesan life, and her own story is absolutely mystical for readers to learn.
The wealth of history that this author had to research is mind-boggling, yet she pulls together a story that is written so well you can almost hear the cries of the men being flogged at the jail; you can almost see the oxcarts moving through the pounding rain; and, feel the undercurrent of fear and frustration in the poor, while they try to feed their families under a regime that could care less whether they live or die.
Oei is a tremendous character. With her big ears and over-sized chin, and loving the man who constantly addresses her as, “Hey you. Come here!” there is a soul that readers will fall for, and want nothing more than for her to find happiness and a way to live her life safely in an ever-changing world.
Quill Says: The magic is in the details, and the details are magnificent!