Kij Johnson,
Fudoki
(Tor, 2004)

Kij Johnson takes a chance with Fudoki by using an unusual method of narration -- and it works wonderfully. At first I thought it would be jarring, but the way she brought my attention gently from the cat to princess and back again heightened the experience of the book. The dreamlike quality of the cat's journey, mingled with the princess's writings about her own life, was extremely touching. The two stories interweave, and the princess relates to what the cat felt and explores it in her own memories.

Princess Harueme is old, sick and dying. She isn't afraid of death, but does want to express herself through writing a story. In a series of journals, defined by their materials and paper color, she tells the story of a tortoiseshell cat, whose fudoki, or family, has died in a fire. Without her fudoki, the cat has no place, no reference and no name. The little cat sets out on a journey to find a new fudoki.

On the way, however, she is turned into a human woman by kami, the little gods. Though the outside is different, she remains wholly a cat inside. The gods provide her with clothing, weapons and food -- whatever she needs on the journey. She acquires a name, Kagaya-Hime, and makes many friends as she treks from Heian Kyo province in the south to north of the Noshira River.

Interspersed throughout the story of Kagaya-Hime, Princess Harueme tells her own story of growing up in the royal family of Japan. She tells of her loneliness, except for her most faithful handmaiden, and her relationship with her half-brother, Emperor Horikawa. Harueme looks back on her long life within the court, her regrets and joys, and prepares to enter a nunnery to spend her last days. Still, she wants to finish the story of the little cat in her journals before she goes, not so anyone else can read them, but simply to tell the tale of a being that is completely free, in a way that the princess could never be.

Fudoki is a book rich in texture and emotion, exploring the similarities between princess and cat, which on the surface could not be more different. Readers will be enchanted by this story, which is truly fantastic without being obviously fantasy.

- Rambles
written by Beth Derochea
published 8 May 2004



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