"Kinshu: Autumn Brocade "
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JAN 29, 2006)
"Though I was a married man, I had an affair with another woman that escalated to a scandalous event; there was no way I could justify what I had done. I don't think there could have been a more compelling reason for a divorce. I upset too many people. I suffered an injury, but the wound inflicted on you was undoubtedly much greater. I also wounded your father and Hoshijima Construction. It was only natural that I should seek a divorce."—Arima Yasuaki, on his divorce.
Through the personal, confidential, and honest letters exchanged by a young Japanese couple, now divorced for ten years, Teru Miyamoto examines the many roles marriage plays in Japanese culture as he also contemplates the wider relationship between life and death. Carrying a powerful emotional impact, despite its ponderous themes, this spare novel lays bare the inner lives of Aki and Yasuaki, her former husband, as they deal with the complications of their everyday lives. As they engage the reader's sympathy through their letters, they also discover the depths of their misunderstandings, explore the new lives they have created since their divorce, and come to terms with their futures.
When the novel opens, Aki, age 35, is taking a spur-of-the-moment trip up Mount Zao with her physically and mentally handicapped son so he can view the autumn stars. When they get settled into the gondola for the ride to the top, Aki is startled to discover that her ex-husband, Yasuaki, is sharing the car. They acknowledge each other briefly, and, after arriving at the end of the ride, go their separate ways without further communication, she accompanying her crippled son (by her second husband) as he slowly makes his way to the top of the mountain on crutches, and he to an inn, where he observes their passage through the window.
The unexpected resurfacing of Yasuaki in Aki's life leads her to write him a long letter a few months later, examining the dramatic events which led to their separation—the discovery of Yasuaki, unconscious, in a hotel room, beside a female companion, who is dead. The apparent double suicide attempt, which became a public scandal, led Yasuaki's insistence on a divorce, to which Aki, the aggrieved wife, agreed, reluctantly. Explaining to Yasuaki how she felt at the time, Aki finally sends the letter several months later, not expecting an answer. Two months later, however, he responds, telling her why he was in the hotel room with another woman and what he was thinking at the time he asked for a divorce.
In the subsequent six letters which Aki writes over the course of ten months, most of which Yasuaki answers, the full impact of the divorce on both Aki and Yasuaki becomes clear. Each has made a new life, Aki as the wife of a college professor and mother of a handicapped son, and Yasuaki as a man who has failed in a series of business ventures. As details of their new lives unfold and their prospects for the future become clear, author Miyamoto, one of the most acclaimed authors of the past twenty years in his native Japan, explores the meaning of the self, the relationship between men and women in Japan (emphasizing the secret strength of women and weakness of men), the importance of family pride, and the meaning of karma, which controls outcomes of life and death.
Repeating motifs add impact to the novel. The word "kinshu" combines the meanings of the Japanese words for "embroidery" and "brocade," which, according to the translator, Roger K. Thomas, have been traditionally associated with autumn in Japanese literature. The brocade imagery repeats, as does autumn, the season in which Aki and Yasuaki meet on the mountain. In addition, early in the novel, Aki explains that after her divorce, she became a habitué of the Mozart coffee house/bookstore, a place that played the music of Mozart exclusively. Moved by a particular Mozart piece, she once thought she heard echoes of living and dying in it, declaring that "Perhaps living and dying are the same thing," a statement she does not understand when she makes it. The repeating image of Mozart's music with its emphasis on "living and dying," and its connection with karma, a Buddhist concept, in the reconciliation of life and death, add additional depth and universality to the themes of the novel.
Conveying an intimate picture of one traditional, semi-arranged marriage and the culture in which it was made, Miyamoto provides a close look at the essence of marriage and its importance. Written in 1982 for a Japanese audience, an outsider may not be privy to the subtleties of the themes—i.e., whether the author is offering a criticism or simply revealing a reality of the time—but Miyamoto's depiction of the suffering of both Aki and Yasuaki, and their inability to share their feelings within the traditional cultural milieu in which they live, cannot help but affect the perceptions of western readers.
Immense sympathy is evoked as these two people, prisoners of their culture, like the rest of us, find their lives permanently affected because they have been unable to surmount the barriers placed by tradition. As each makes a new life, the reader realizes that though the culture in which these new lives will unfold differs from that of western readers, the human qualities of these individuals and their feelings are universal. Filled with themes applicable to all cultures and with universal images involving autumn, Mozart, and brocade, this is the first Miyamoto novel to be translated into English--an elegant and moving novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Muddy River (Doro no Kawa) (1977)
- River of Fireflies (Hoterugawa) (1978)
- Kinshu: Autumn Brocade (1982; October 2005 in US)
Movies from books:
- Muddy River (1981)
- River of Fireflies (1987)
- Maborosi (1995)
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- Becoming Wiser
- SFGate.com review of Kinshu
- Washington Times review of Kinshu
- Complete Review on Kinshu
- Excerpt from The People of Dream Street
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About the Author:
Teru Miyamoto was born in Kobe City, Japan in 1947. He graduated from the faculty of letters at Otemon Gakuin University. He is a one of Japan's most popular writers and is well-known worldwide. His works ahve been translated to French, Korean, Chinese, Russian and finally English.