Fudoki Paperback – Sep 9 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Johnson's mesmerizing second fantasy based on Japanese myth surpasses her inspired debut, The Fox Woman (2000). As the half-sister, aunt and great-grandaunt of the last three Japanese emperors, respectively, the princess Harueme has lived a long life of privilege at court, but now she is dying and must go to a convent. While sorting through her belongings, she comes across several blank notebooks, and a "blank notebook demands words." To fill them, Harueme spins the tale of a nameless tortoiseshell cat living in a ramshackle estate in the capital. When a fire raging through the city destroys the estate, the cat is the only survivor. Her aunts and cousins having been killed, she is bereft of her fudoki the chronicle of all the female cats who have inhabited her home. Homeless and nameless, she sets out on a journey that will take her to humanity and back, and earn her a name both as the Cat Who Survived and as Kagaya-hime, woman warrior. The author interweaves the story Harueme tells with Harueme's own, equally absorbing tale. To call Johnson a stylist is to call Michael Jordan a basketball player each word and phrase glitters gemlike on the page. This tale of life and dying, of love and humanity, soars with feline grace.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The successor to The Fox Woman (2000) is set in the same Japanese-myth-influenced universe and just as charming. It is the story of a tortoiseshell cat who has lost her (feline) family in a fire in the imperial capital. Now only she knows the tales and traditions of her clan. So she sets off on a journey, during which she encounters a kami of the roads, who gives her a new shape, that of a human, without removing her feline soul. The cat-souled woman becomes the warrior Kagaya-hime amid the intrigues of early twelfth-century Japan. Her story is a tale within a tale, for it is framed by the story of Princess Harueme, who tells the cat's tale, and whose life is hedged about by the restrictions of the imperial court. Now, old and dying, Harueme finds, first, relief, and then, renewed interest in the world as she sorts through her possessions and her memories. And in the end, Kagaya-hime sends the princess on a journey. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book interweaves two stories: the Princess Haruemi and Harueme, the cat who is transformed into a woman. Unfortunately, the premise of the book has to be accepted on faith, and this is a problem because almost everything that happens follows from it. When Harueme the cat finds her "fudoki" destroyed by fire, she finds she cannot join another fudoki, or clan, because each fudoki has its own myths and stories and the cat finds that those stories have come to constitute her identity. To join another fudoki would mean that she would soon lose the identity that created her. Consequently, she begins a long journey to discover a place of her own. I found the idea of an unreplaceable fudoki, at least as Johnson renders it, far from believable. A half-starved, burned cat would have found other cats with which to live. But this cat can do no such thing because of Johnson's insistence on the the arbitrary nature of the cat's attachment to the original "fudoki," stories and tales passed down from one generation of cats to another. Because this premise never seemed inevitable or even creditable, the entire journey of the cat's plight was undermined.
On top of that, the pacing of the story is slow; the two intertwined stories, one of the dying princess, the other of the cat who is transformed into a woman, mesh but do not generate much intensity. In The Fox Woman, a fox is determined to shape-shift into a human form. In Fudoki, this transformation is inflicted on the cat by a kami or god who makes the cat a human. The lack of inevitability--or motive--again makes for a less intense narrative than one would have expected.Read more ›
Harueme scribes the story of a tortoiseshell cat living in a ramshackle estate until a fire destroyed her home and killed her relatives. The sole survivor is a feline who feels lonely as she also lost her FUDOKI, for there is no one to share the chronicle of all the female cats who resided in her home. She sets out on a journey to find a home for her Fudoki and a name for herself.
Kij Johnson's second fantasy based on Japanese myth is as good if not better than her delightful debut, THE FOX WOMAN. The themes of this powerful tale are life, dying, death, and love, but these subjects are deftly placed in two potent subplots. Harueme's story contrasts with that of the nameless cat as both face death and a loss of home with dignity and courage. The two stars enhance this fabulous thought provoking fantasy that deserves strong readership. With a fox and a cat in her menagerie, fans will wonder which animal from Japanese myths Ms. Johnson will star in her next novel.
Johnson writes with lyrical grace, as if she has distilled the style and it flows effortlessly. The story is intensely poignant yet earthy and entertaining, the idea of the fudoki magnificently realized.
I really look forward to this author's future work; it's worth buying in hardcover.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Near death, Harueme begins to fill blank notebooks - a new one for each chapter - with the cat's story, interwoven with her own memories. The young tortoiseshell cat lost her family, and with them, her fudoki - her spiritual lineage - in a terrible fire. She sets out on an aimless journey, bereft of name, family and purpose, and encounters gods and people, none of whom hold any interest for her. But ignoring the gods can have a price and the little cat is transformed into a woman - with enough cat qualities and spirit-aid to help her on her adventures.
Free and alone, she is unlike Harueme who has never been either. But Harueme has her own power, not least of which is her imagination. Harueme absorbs the world as people bring it to her in tales, and the cat-woman keeps the world at bay as she moves through it, defending her life, making friends, acquiring a reputation and a name: Kagaya-hime, woman warrior.
Johnson's writing is fluid and musical, her characters archetypes and real at the same time, and the historical detail is imaginatively, visually realized. But Harueme, though pampered, selfish and captive, is more involving than the cat-woman, whose humorless detachment is, well, too feline, for real identification. But Johnson makes us believe that Kagaya-hime is what a cat-turned-woman would be like, and this tale of love, belonging, freedom and redemption is as rewarding as it is different.
Fudoki takes place in Japan round about 1000AD-ish, and the story is that of a princess, Harueme, who is nearing the end of her life. She, in turn, is telling a story about a cat, and the book takes us through both her own and her character's tale, weaving back and forth between them at Harueme's whim.
I'm glad I bought this book, because I knew even half way through reading it that I would want to re-read it in the future - so much is touched on in the story. I think it will be well worth going through it again, knowing the characters better right from the get-go. There are some great themes, and they're touched on in so many different ways: death, freedom, strength, and how they all intertwine. This is one of those stories that I didn't want to end - I kept checking to see how many pages I had left - but am glad it did where it did. Open-ended, and yet extremely satisfying.
This is a wonderful book, sure to appeal to fans of Patricia McKillip and Catherynne Valente, though it's more accessible than either of their work. It's very much rooted in the myths of Japan, and while I don't know a ton about the time period, nothing of what I do know was contradicted by what Johnson wrote, so I am assuming that she captured the era (Heian-era Japan I believe) with some degree of accuracy. Like in McKillip and Valente's work, this is not fantasy that lovingly details a set of rules for its magic system; it is fantasy where there are gods and there are humans and there are animals and the lines between these things are not sharp at all, where anything can happen and no one is much surprised when anything does. Logic plays a role, but it's dream logic, and the worst error to commit is in assuming that any other being's motivations match our own.
But what made this book brilliant (and caused it to be nominated for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award) is the way in which it is fundamentally a womens' fantasy. The fudoki of the cats is entirely female; there is no place for males, and none of the fudoki cares to even know the names of the toms that fathered their kittens. Harueme (this would be the aging noblewoman narrating Kagaya-hime's tale, half-sister to the former Emperor Shirakawa) also lives in an almost entirely female world, where women have husbands and lovers but their days are spent hidden from male sight (and even the seductions take place with an eye to maintaining the illusion that no man can see their faces). Harueme loved her half-brother, and reminisces about her soldier-lover Domei, but the most important relationship she has is with her attendant, Shigeko. The novel even acknowledges that women menstruate -- I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the SF/F novels that do that -- and there are elaborate (historically-based, I assume) codes of conduct built around that simple fact of life. It's a novel about women's issues: family and home and place in a society when all of those things are rigidly proscribed.
It works on a pure fantasy level too, with the cat-transformed-into-a-human element and the presence of the kami (which are a whole class of gods, not the name of a specific god as the jacket implies) and even a small war of revenge that leads to a seige; and I'm pretty sure it works as historical fiction, though as I've said I don't know very much about the time period so I can't attest to its accuracy. But it will linger in my memory because it shows a slice of life fantasy novels too often forget, not with any particular message, but just because these are stories that rarely get told. I wish there were more novels like this.
Kagaya-hime is a black tortoiseshell cat who has lost her family and extended clan in a fire. They and their predecessors were part of Kagaya-hime's "fudoki" - a cat's hearth and home, soul and line of succession. In her search to find a new place where she belongs, Kagaya-hime travels along the Tokaido - one of the ancient routes connecting Edo and Kyoto - and is watched by the spirit of the road, a kami. The kami decides to test the cat on her journey by changing her into a beautiful woman... albeit a woman whose behavior and words are those of a cat.
The cat's tale is being told by the elderly Princess Harueme, who feels compelled to fill the pages of a notebook with a story before she goes to spend her final years in solitude and religious contemplation at a Buddhist convent. The novel deftly weaves back and forth between the tale of Kagaya-hime and Harueme's own story, which is sometimes peppered in as commentary to the cat's story. The princess readily admits to being jealous of her own creation, who is free to experience both pain and the freedom to roam which are denied to a member of the royal court. Harueme cannot help but share some of the joy and pain that she has experienced during her long years.
Just like her previous novel "The Fox Woman," Johnson has taken the world of Heian-era Japan and imbued it with a fresh take on some of the Japanese mythology which originated during that period. As other reviewers have noted, Johnson is one of those rare Western authors who is able not only to successfully spin a tale using characters and themes from the East, but also effectively utilize an Asian storytelling style in the English language. Her prose is quite delicately crafted and her descriptions of the people and places of long-ago Japan are very richly detailed.
I highly recommend this book, and am very much looking forward to the final installment of Johnson's Heian trilogy.