It snowed! Now it feels like December. Only last week it was in the 60's.
Check out the contrast:
Even my dog was confused.
Then Stella remembered snow angels.
Burning bush berries add festive color.
A major storm is coming today, the first school Snow Day.
If I’m not online later, you’ll know why.
It’s time to curl up by the fire with a good winter book. I’ve discovered a new author: Marie Mutsuki Mockett. Her debut novel, Picking Bones from Ash, follows Rumi’s search for her Japanese mother in snow country. Like her protagonist, the author has an American father, a Japanese mother and true talent.
“But when you are talented, you are special. You will have troubles, but they won’t be any of the ordinary ones.” So begins the narrative and sums up my review.
In the northern mountains of Japan, villagers welcome winter with hot sake and dancing devils. Buddhist priests exorcise lost souls, and Shinto spirits can occupy any object. Bridges to the Underworld appear over multi-colored hot springs. Reality vanishes in the sulfur mist of Japan and in the fog of San Francisco.
Mocket’s writing brings to mind other masters of mysticism, such as Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Amy Tan (whose endorsement is on the cover.) The ghosts of ancestors and past injustices haunt the present. Individuals belong to an extended family, including both the living and the deceased. Such literature drops us into another culture and its system of beliefs.
Mocket does not strand the reader in Wonderland. She explains Buddhism and Shintoism with the voice of a scholar. At times these long passages of exposition risk sounding didactic and slow the pace. More integration would have been better. Expository sections also introduce the reader to the world of Asian antiques and porcelain. Rumi is an antique dealer who listens to the voices of objects, which literally tell her of their past. I loved how this worked in the narrative.
The experience of reading Picking Bones from Ash is quite like soaking in a hot spring in the mountains of Japan (I did so a decade ago.) The heat and vapor rest the body but blur the vision. Time slows; outlines are unclear. There wasn’t much plot or narrative tension in the novel, and yet I kept reading. The writing was lovely and easy to follow. Mockett favors short paragraphs and lyrical descriptions (eg “Snowflakes the size of dandelions bloomed in the air.”) I felt totally immersed in another culture and its landscape. Mockett captures the bi-cultural experience of many Americans.
Although this debut novel was beautifully original and evocative, there were some novice glitches. Rumi and her mother had strong narrative voices, but the dialogue sounded unnaturally formal. None of the romantic relationships made much sense. The section set in Paris felt tacked onto the narrative and unnecessary; two countries would have been enough. The story felt intensely personal, like a memoir. There is definitely a first-novel feel to Picking Bones from Ash, like watching a young bird on its first flight. It can be awkward, but then it soars.
“Eventually the snow stopped falling, and the clouds parted. Moonlight hit the white earth and the air took on a silver quality. Now I could see the outline of trees, the shadows of forests on the snow-covered ground. Sometimes I looked ahead and saw the figure was trudging before me and I felt as though I were watching a negative of a film unfold in slow motion: white earth, black sky, blue trees. It was eerily beautiful and foreign.”
-Marie Mutsuki Mockett