THE PAINTING

Nina Schuyler, Author . Algonquin $23.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-56512-441-7

A host of brittle characters populate this oblique historical novel, set in two very different locations at the same moment in history: Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration and Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Debut author Schuyler tenuously connects these settings when Ayoshi, a frantically unhappy young Japanese woman who seeks to escape her hated arranged marriage by painting memories of her old lover, sends off a painting wrapped around one of her husband's ceramic bowls. The bowls make their way to Paris, where the painting is discovered by Jorgen, a disabled mercenary soldier from Denmark sitting out the remainder of the war as a merchant's assistant. As miserable as Ayoshi, Jorgen finds himself drawn against his will to his boss's bastard sister Natalia, who has signed up to become a woman soldier. The novel shuttles back and forth between Japan and Paris, but Schuyler never develops a compelling reason to link the two periods, either in plot or in theme. The historical tragedies of Paris and Japan remain stubbornly separate, just as the characters remain unreachable, too caught up in their own webs of misery to become fully alive on the page. Schuyler opts to forgo traditional punctuation, which lends her prose a spare poetic sensibility, and relief comes from moments of almost haiku-like beauty ("She's like a slice of the moonlight") that break through the gloom. Agent, Michelle Tressler at Carlisle & Co. Author tour. (Oct. 22)

Reviewed on: 10/04/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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Open Ebook - 312 pages - 978-1-56512-881-1
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