Book Review: The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

16129295Many of you probably know Natsuo Kirino 夏生桐野 because of her famous books Out, Real World and Grotesque. She is a very popular author, well-known for her crime fiction taking up the contemporary problematic side of Japanese society and has won many literary awards. The Goddess Chronicle stands aside from her writing tradition, as she turns to the Japanese mythology.

How did I like it?
Normally I am not much into fantasy fiction, but this is different. It was a good read. It was fun and interesting to follow the story Natsuo Kirino invented on basis of the famous Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi. They are two of the most important kamis (gods) of the Japanese mythology. According to the myths they created the Japanese islands and many other Japanese gods, as the sun goddess Amaterasu, the moon-god Tsukuyomi and Susanoo, the god of the sea and storm.

The story is a part of the Kojiki 古事記 (Records of Ancient Matters), which is one of the oldest Japanese books together with the Nihongi 日本紀 (The Chronicles of Japan). Both books play an important role in Japanese history, because of their implications for the role of the Japanese emperor. To get a full understanding of Natsuo Kirino’s novel I recommend to read the story of Izanami and Izanagi in the Kojiki first. There is an English translation by Basil Chamberlain available at Those, who lack the time and interest in the old text get an overview here at wikipedia.

The main characters of Natsuo Kirino’s Goddess Chronicle are Kamikuu and Namima, two sisters, who have to meet their fate as the goddess of light and darkness. Kamikuu becomes the oracle of the island, whereas Namima has to serve as the goddess of the darkness, doomed to live in the underworld of the dead. They fall in love with the same man. And that is of course tragic.

Kamikuu, the oracle of the island, lives in a holy place outside of the village. Every day Namima has to bring her food in a basket, and only the most delicious and best food is good enough for her. Namima has to put down the basket in front of Kamikuu’s house without meeting her beloved sister. Sometimes she can catch a glimpse of the white lady, who once had been her intimate sister, now estranged and living separate.

After Kamikuu finishes eating, Namima has to take the basket away and throw the food untouched by Kamikuu into the open sea. And most of the time, Kamikuu has not even touched the basket. Because most of the people in town are poor and often nearly starving, Namima is getting into an inner conflict with her duty.

One day a beautiful man appears on the scene. Namima will break the rules for him and go through a breathtaking development. As the reader will mainly follow her viewpoint of the story, one will go through her metamorphosis. A myth about man and woman, about love and revenge, jealousy and fate. Natsuo Kirino wrote a story in style of a myth, that could be part of the Kojiki, but is not, but she places Izanami and Izanagi into a new setting and gives them new roles. And that is also a very interesting aspect. Natsuo Kirino has her own interpretation of the old myth and takes the female point of view. The book was discussed by gender theorists, I am not very familiar with. So I do not want to put much philosophical thought into it. I think it is very well narrated.

Natsuo Kirino is a very skilled author for sure. The story structure is well-developed, the story is thrilling throughout the book. The characters are constantly changing and are transformed into new beings. With that many unforeseen turning points occur. The whole story is about metamorphosis. Interesting read!

桐野 夏生: Jonshiki 2008. Natsuo Kirino: The Goddess Chronicle, 2013.