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The mask carver's son
Alyson M. Richman
Adult Fiction RICHMAN

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Set in Japan and France in the late 19th century, this haunting first novel, steeped in the author's knowledge of Japanese culture, explores the painful sacrifices in two lives dedicated to art. Master wood-carver Enchi Ryusei has a tortured, estranged relationship with his son, Yamamoto Kiyoki, who defies tradition and becomes a painter in the European style. When Ryusei was a child, his parents died after eating an underripe, poisonous plum that he picked for them. For solace the boy turns to wood carving, and is soon recognized for his talent and encouraged to carve Noh masks. As a young man, Ryusei impresses the revered actor Yamamoto Yuji, with his exquisitely carved masks. Yuji introduces Ryusei to his daughter, whom Ryusei marries. The union is tepid at first, but the couple fall deeply in love shortly before she dies giving birth to Yamamoto Kiyoki. Afraid to love again, Ryusei keeps his distance from his son, allowing his mother-in-law to raise him. Though the boy is expected to carry on the family tradition of carving, Kiyoki breaks his father's heart at 16, when, in the wake of Westernization brought about by the Meiji, he decides to become a Western-style painter. Winning a scholarship to the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, Kiyoki follows his dream, eventually making his way to Paris. He returns to Japan for an exhibition of his work, but it is a resounding failure. Thwarted in his attraction to another man, Kiyoki reenacts the isolated, loveless life his father lived, investing all his passion, pain and desire in his art. This reverent, formal and ambitious first novel boasts a glossy surface and convincing period detail, but Richman's prose keeps the reader at a distance, much like that between the mask carver and his son. The formidable, precise style triumphs over substance, and while characters are lucidly outlined, their depths remain mysterious. (Jan.) FYI: Richman apprenticed with one of Kyoto's most renowned Noh mask carvers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

First-time author Richman has successfully drawn upon her historical research and her own experience as an apprentice to a Noh mask carver in Japan to produce a unique and deeply moving work. Set in both Japan and Europe at the turn of the 19th century, the book introduces the reader to the world of Noh theater as seen through the eyes of Kiyoki Yamamoto, the son and only child of a renowned Noh mask carver and grandson of a Noh stage actor. Surrounded by loss and death, he dreams of becoming an artist, and although he occasionally succeeds, he is never able to discover the love, contentment, and, most of all, acceptance that he truly craves. Kiyoki is a man in search of simple pleasures with whom all of us can identify. Richman's fluid writing is filled with historical detail and strong characterization. This realistic portrayal is reminiscent of the writings of great tragedians, and readers will eagerly anticipate the denouement. Recommended for most larger fiction and historical fiction collections.--Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Fountain Valley, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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