Johnson's mesmerizing second fantasy based on Japanese myth surpasses her inspired debut, The Fox Woman (2000). As the half-sister, aunt and great-grandaunt of the last three Japanese emperors, respectively, the princess Harueme has lived a long life of privilege at court, but now she is dying and must go to a convent. While sorting through her belongings, she comes across several blank notebooks, and a "blank notebook demands words." To fill them, Harueme spins the tale of a nameless tortoiseshell cat living in a ramshackle estate in the capital. When a fire raging through the city destroys the estate, the cat is the only survivor. Her aunts and cousins having been killed, she is bereft of her fudoki—the chronicle of all the female cats who have inhabited her home. Homeless and nameless, she sets out on a journey that will take her to humanity and back, and earn her a name—both as the Cat Who Survived and as Kagaya-hime, woman warrior. The author interweaves the story Harueme tells with Harueme's own, equally absorbing tale. To call Johnson a stylist is to call Michael Jordan a basketball player—each word and phrase glitters gemlike on the page. This tale of life and dying, of love and humanity, soars with feline grace. (Oct. 8)
Forecast: Routine marketing and a dearth of supportive blurbs are hardly auspicious. It may take important award nominations to put this deserving author on the map.