Friday, March 7, 2014

Readdreamrelax #32 Prisoner of Heaven, Kazunomiya, Japan 1858 by Kathryn Lasky


Summary: Princess Kazunomiya, half-sister of the Emperor of Japan, relates in her diary and in poems the confusing events occurring in the Imperial Palace in 1858, including political and romantic intrigue.

With few exceptions, whenever I read a book that’s written by a European and it takes place in Asia, I ended up being disappointed because I feel that the books are inaccurate, portray Asians with an “exotic” flair, or where an Asian is often saved by a European man, (especially if it’s an Asian female) the pairings don’t make much sense to me. Somehow, I expected Prisoner of Heaven  by Kathryn Lasky to fall into these categories and I was expecting to be disappointed. (Also, I have read Jahanara, Princess of Princess by the same author and ended up being disappointed.) Luckily enough, the opposite occurred and I was impressed with the writing, and portrayal of Japan in 1850s. And, while Europeans were included in the story, they weren’t given center stage as I had expected. Instead, it’s clear that the story is from a Japanese princess’s point of view.

Prisoner of Heaven by Kathryn Lasky spans the year 1858. When Kazunomiya is twelve years old, she begins to learn about life at court. During this year a lot of changes, both inner and outer, begin to occur, such as Americans arriving on the Japanese shores demanding to be let in. She also witnesses slights and court intrigues against those she cares about. Many times she is forced to change numerous things about herself, from her birthday to certain ceremonies and so forth. Not once was her life boring or ordinary. Character-wise, I would best describe her as arrogant, proud and at times she seemed to think that some things were a game instead of something serious. Meanwhile, she also starts to learn valuable lessons and tries to put them to use.  I was shocked at how a lot was unspoken at the court, and that there seemed to be tons of meanings and interpretations to everything that the nobility did. I can sense that a lot of care and love went into writing Prisoner of Heaven.

One of the unexpected benefits of reading Prisoner of Heaven by Kathryn Lasky is that it helped me understand Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji Shikibu is one of my favorite books, and something I read for relaxation. In Tale of Genji, I took poetry at face value so to speak, but after reading Prisoner of Heaven by Kathryn Lasky, I realized that there’s much more to poetry and its various meanings than what I originally thought.

Unfortunately, despite the aforementioned praise, I did have a minor problem reading Prisoner of Heaven by Kathryn Lasky: the names of the months in 1850s were a lot different than today and Kathryn Lasky doesn’t really address or mention this issue. For example, in modern Japanese March would be called “3rd month” which is sangatsu, but instead of using sangatsu, Kazunomiya uses yayoi, an old way of saying “3rd month.”

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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