Goddess Chronicle, The Hardcover – Feb 26 2013
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* Daring and disturbing ... [Kirino is] prepared to push the human limits of this world ... Remarkable Los Angeles Times * It is one of the most unexpected and playful novels to emerge from Japan in recent years ... a triumph. In its boldness and originality, it broadens our sense of what modern Japanese fiction can be -- (for Real World) Telegraph * Be prepared for a book utterly unlike anything we are used to in crime fiction -- (for Real World) Independent * Got my heart beating -- (for Out) Rose Tremain Daily Telegraph * In her wildly far-reaching tale of relations between gods and men, men and women, life and death, darkness and light, Natsuo Kirino tells a peripatetic, global, and truly satisfying love story of how it is to be human Stella Duffy * Kirino's retelling is a taut, disturbing and timeless tale, filled with rage and pathos for the battles that women have to fight every day, battles which have, apparently, existed from the moment of creation -- Tan Twan Eng the Guardian 20130227 * I have to say I had a wonderful experience reading this novel because not only Natsuo Kirino has once again captured my attention through her great writing skill and her most unforgettable plot, but what most made this book such a satisfying read is the thought-provoking message behind the story. I couldn't put my feelings into words; this is one novel that you need to read it to experience it Melody's Reading Corner * What an enjoyable tale I found this to be, involving: love, loss, betrayal, hatred and revenge with great storytelling qualities, memorable characters an epic and mythical read ... A tale that will have you captivated and fully intertwined, a love story that will remain in your mind and felt in your heart for many cycles of the Sun More2Read * [Izanami and Izanagi's] story provides a point of comparison and contrast with Namima's ... All is wrapped up in clean prose that gives this engaging novel a mythic feel of its very own Follow the Tread * The Goddess Chronicle dissects the myths of female helplessness, power and vindictiveness with simplicity and empathy. And like all myths that transcend boundaries, it will resonate with women of every culture -- Ong Sor Fern The Straits Times
About the Author
Natuso Kirino is a leading figure in the recent boom of female writers of Japanese hard-boiled crime fiction. A prolific writer, she is most famous for her 1998 novel, Out, which received the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, Japan's top mystery award and was a finalist (in translation) for the 2004 Edgar Award. So far, four of her novels have been translated into English: Out, Grotesque, Real World and What Remains. Rebecca Copeland is a professor of Japanese literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where her research and teaching focuses on women, gender, and translation studies. A fan of Natsuo Kirino's work, she also translated her 2003 novel Grotesque
Top Customer Reviews
Such is the case with <The Goddess Chronicle, by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Rebecca Copeland.
The story is a retelling of an original Japanese creation story. I suspect the original work by Kirino is a charged, tight story. Copeland's translation, however, lacks passion, and certainly this is a story about passion, in fact eons of passion as we trace the history of the Yin/Yang gods of Izanami and Izanaki through the mortal lives of Namima and her unscrupulous lover.
There is much here of sibling rivalry and betrayal of sacred trusts, of epic journeys both temporal and spiritual. There is a genesis story, a parallel to the Greek Persephone myth. There is the struggle of the desperately poor serving religious tenets that serve only to embed their poverty.
It's all there. And not a single phrase of elegance or startling insight to lift the reader from a grey narrative to the chiaroscuro the story demands.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Namima narrates this story, which interweaves with the story of Izanami, the Goddess of the Underworld, who likewise had a faithless lover, Izanaki. Readers who know Japanese mythology will recognize those names; this book is one of the ‘Myths’ series put out by Canongate wherein famous writers retell the old stories. Izanami and Izanaki are part of an ancient creation myth as the parents of the islands of Japan. When Izanami died, Izanaki trapped her in the underworld and went about impregnating mortal women, who Izanami then killed. The moral of The Goddess Chronicle seems to be that males, whether they be god or mortal, are tricky beings only after one thing and women are destined to die because of them.
The book is somewhat dry but well written. My problem with it is that it seemed a bit simplistic: women die because of men. I can see that being true in the age when the myth arose; childbirth was dangerous and frequent; men ruled and took what they wanted. But to make that the point of a book today seems dated; it’s like a feminist book from the 1970s where the women were all good and the men all bad (and if a woman was bad, it was because a man caused them to be). Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and found myself caught up in Namima’s story, rooting for something bad to happen to her erstwhile lover.
Another early source of the mythology would have been the Nihongi, or Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), completed around 720 A.D.
According to the legends, after their birth Izanaki and Izanami stood on the floating bridge of heaven, stirring the primeval ocean with a jewelled spear, on lifting the spear droplets fell from it into the water forming an island called Onogoro. Izanaki and Izanami descended to the island and became husband & wife. Not long after, Izanami gave birth to their first child who was deformed - the other gods blamed Izanami, because she spoke before her husband at their marriage ceremony. The couple decided to perform another wedding ceremony (perceived correct this time) and Izanami soon gave birth to eight lovely children - these became the islands of Japan.
Izanaki and Izanami then went on to create many more gods and goddesses, representing the mountains, valleys, waterfalls, streams, winds and the many other natural features of Japan. Life seemed good until during the birth of Kagutsuchi (the fire god), Izanami was badly burned, although as she lay dying, she continued creating gods and goddesses, whilst other deities emerged from the tear ducts of the heartbroken Izanaki. When Izanami died, she descended to Yomi (underworld) and her husband decided to go there and bring her back from this land of darkness and death. Izanami greeted Izanaki from the shadows as he approached the entrance to the underworld, warning him not to look upon her - full of desire for his wife, Izanaki lit a torch and looked into Yomi. Horrified by the sight of his wife, now a rotting corpse, Izanaki fled. Izanami, livid that her husband had failed to respect her wishes, sent hideous female spirits, eight thunder gods and an army of fierce warriors after him. Izanaki managed to escape by blocking the entrance between Yomi and the land of the living with a massive boulder. They subsequently broke off their marriage with Izanami now trapped behind this immovable boulder screaming out to Izanaki that if he left her she would kill a thousand of the living every day. He furiously replied he would give life to 1000 in return. Although Izanami has the last bitter laugh by choosing to kill the women her estranged husband impregnates. (Thanks to the Myths Encyclopaedia)
We learn about this from Namima, who with her sister has her life mapped out from birth. Her sister will become their island’s oracle and she will become the island’s priestess of death. This path is so rigidly marked out that there is no chance of her living any form of life she would choose for herself, in fact she is deemed impure – the Yin to her sisters Yang and upon her sister’s death she would be expected to commit suicide to maintain the balance. Yearning to break free from this straightjacket she is coerced to break one taboo & then another, becoming pregnant, leaving her with no choice but to flee with the man who claimed to love her, but will ultimately betray her by killing her and taking her new born daughter for purposes of his own. She wakes to find herself now trapped in Yomi, with a goddess who has had untold centuries to hone her vengeance. Namima, cannot come to terms with her new existence, and learns the tale of the goddess - seeing how it correlates with her and her own life was. She is also burning up with the desire to address the wrongs done to her, and needs to understand what has happened to her daughter.
The Goddess Chronicle is a retelling of the myth of Izanaki and Izanami by Natsuo Kirino and like her other books, this is more than just a simple tale of love gone foul. Anyone having read Out, Grotesque & Real world, will recognise the familiar themes of the deification of women, combined with their subjugation and estrangement from all that is worthwhile within Japanese society. Of women reaching beyond some role/image forced upon them, attempting to seek meaning, control over their existence, whilst they struggle against rigid societal conventions - leaving them with no option but to break the taboos, family ties and conventions laid down by a world that doesn't recognise them as individuals, and to ultimately pay the price. Because as with her other books there is always a tab to be paid. The Goddess Chronicle, is also like her other books in that it is a book that appears to turn its own pages, that sets a pace and just rolls along building up steam or in this case anger, because as John Lydon said “Anger is an energy” and in this book it burns off the page and through the retina - searing its cautionary tale into your neurons.
But then the story digresses into a repetitive and dull view of suffering and dying. Our narrator dies for her man when he murders her. Her goddess "dies" for her man. Her sister kills herself for her man. The goddess of the underworld kills women who slept with her god husband, so they essentially die for their man. While the descriptions of the pillared halls and flickering spirits of the underworld are wonderfully weird, the protagonist's acceptance and indulgence in her own suffering comes off as unneeded histrionics.
I do believe some people are forever scarred by their pain, and it ends up defining them. But this story was such a romanticized version of that suffering and indulgence that it started to feel like farce. It reminded me simultaneously of the scene in Funny Girl when Fanny Brice plops her head onto the table to express suffering (in a great comical moment), the Soup Nazi's face in Seinfeld when Kramer reminds him how he suffers for his soup, and the "Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me" group from Hee Haw, something I doubt the author or translator intended.
There are also other issues. The way island life is described sometimes makes the community seem like it should hold several thousand rather than a couple of hundred inhabitants. (This could be a translation issue.) The theogony of the Japanese gods included so many names and so much telling (rather than showing) I had a hard time keeping up and never really cared. And as I already mentioned, there was a lot of repeating of how much various people were suffering.
Basically I am left with the impression of someone throwing their arm over their face and wailing "woe is me." I'd suggest using the library to read the first part, skip the gods, then read the chapter "With All I Do in This World," where our heroine returns to the land of the living as a wasp to solve the mystery of her own murder. But skip the rest.
Geoff Crocker Editor Atheist Spirituality web site