Release Date: November 22, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction, Cultural, Japan
*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
A lost voice of old Japan reclaims her rightful place in history in this breathtaking work of imagination and scholarship from award-winning and internationally acclaimed author Katherine Govier. In the evocative tale of 19th century Tokyo, The Printmaker’s Daughter delivers an enthralling tale of one of the world’s great unknown artists: Oei, the mysterious daughter of master printmaker Hokusai, painter of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. In a novel that will resonate with readers of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the sights and sensations of an exotic, bygone era form the richly captivating backdrop for an intimate, finely wrought story of daughterhood and duty, art and authorship, the immortality of creation and the anonymity of history.
Going into reading this book I knew absolutely nothing about Katsushika Hokusai. To be honest, I didn’t even know this was actually based on a true story. It’s loosely based, but really only because there is not a lot of information out there about Hokusai’s life, just his work.
The author had to take certain liberties with the character’s personalities, but for the most part, these were real people that once lived in a very difficult time. Katherine spent five years researching and writing this novel. Five years of interviewing, traveling to Japan, researching, visiting museums and colleges, talking to experts, scholars and anyone else that could possibly help write the story of this man and his mystery daughter, Oi.
I knew nothing about any of this until I started reading. But then I fell in love with the story and wanted to know more (a lot more!), so I did some research of my own. I studied Hokusai and his work, I read up on him and the time that he lived, I learned as much as I could about the courtesans of the Yoshiwara and painting woodblock prints. All this was, and still is, new to me. But I was mesmerized. Enchanted, really. I could talk about this forever. And really, if you have ANY questions to ask me about this book, feel free, because I loved it. Adored it.
I don’t want to compare it to Memoirs of a Geisha, because the books cover two completely different topics, but it’s hard not to for me, because Memoirs is at this point probably my favorite book. Ever. But I think The Printmaker’s Daughter may surpass that for me. If not surpass, it is equal. I think this story was a bit more real in its authenticity. The voice of Oi felt extremely real to me. It was almost as if a Japanese girl was really telling the story. It felt extremely authentic. And Oi had personality. I didn’t really feel that way about Memoirs. While I really loved the story, it was because of the characters that I was enchanted. But the protagonist, Sayuri, didn’t have much of a personality. Not so with this book. And the settings felt so incredibly real.
This was a book to get lost in. A book to take your time with. I just wanted to savor every word and let the story unfold slowly. And I did. It was magical. Parts of it were depressing, sure, because living in that time for women was not easy. It felt very oppressive for Oi. And also the courtesans. And it was. But through it all, Oi remained strong and steadfast. As impossible and selfish as her father was, she remained loyal and devoted to him until the day he died. Which by the way, was a very long time to live. He lived to the ripe old ancient age of 89. In 1849 when he died, living that long was extremely rare. Oi lived under his thumb, and fame, for his entire life. How oppressive.
Finally, she is starting to gain recognition. People are actually trying to find out the truth. Which paintings of her father’s was she actually responsible for? From what I have seen, she is a little more talented than he is. Her usage of colors is just outstanding. And in my opinion, you can clearly tell her work from his.
In closing, this was a brilliant cultural read. I could write for endless hours about how epic I found this book to be. And I learned so much while reading. It was basically my ultimate reading experience. I love reading cultural fiction. Specifically about Asia, but as long as I am learning, I could care less. I will be following Katherine Govier’s career. I think she is an amazing writer and this book deserves to be read by the masses. I am SO, so glad I read it. And of course I will be buying a copy for keeps.