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Picking Bones from Ash

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  257 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
Three generations of women intersect in this evocative debut novel

My mother always told me that there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably and masterfully talented.

No one knows who fathered eleven-year-old Satomi, and the women of her 1950s Japanese mountain town find her mother's restless sensuality a threat. Sato
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Graywolf Press
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Jan 10, 2015 Lisa rated it it was ok
Shelves: japan
Hmmm... Something kept me reading this book, but it wasn't because it was good. I guess it was my infatuation with Japan. This book was just all over the place. It was so disjointed. It started out like an Amy Tan novel, but not quite as interesting, telling the story of a young girl growing up in Japan with her single and unusual mother who ran a small bar. This part wasn't bad and lasted for about a third of the book. So you basically spend 100 pages getting yourself invested in these characte ...more
Oct 19, 2009 Jim rated it it was amazing
Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s debut is an arresting story of three generations of Japanese women trying to come to terms with who they are. Now that’s a sentence that can be used to describe a boatload of books and doesn’t do this one justice. Mockett has a remarkable ability to infuse her story with subtle nuances so that a piano recital is infused with desperate tension, the discovery of a hidden artifact is limned with the supernatural, and a journey into the north of the Japan takes on the qualiti ...more
Tonya Plank
Jan 17, 2010 Tonya Plank rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book -- stayed up all night reading it! It takes place from the 1950s through early 1990s, between Japan, Paris and San Francisco, but mostly Japan, and tells the interlocking stories of two women, Satomi and Rumi.

Satomi, growing up in a small Japanese town in the 50s, is pushed hard to become a concert pianist by her single mother, who believes (correctly, it turns out -- at least in mid-20th Century Japan, and America) that "there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this
Jan 16, 2010 Johanna rated it it was ok
First of all, this book should have been longer to unpack all the things and events that Mockett just rushes through. The first thing they teach you in creative writing is "show, don't tell". Apparently Mockett has never heard this, which makes me wonder what business she has writing a first novel at all. She telegraphs almost all the important events in the book for the reader, without letting the audience figure it out for themselves. It's like the story serves only the purpose of a few well-t ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 26, 2011 switterbug (Betsey) rated it liked it
The theme of mother-daughter bonds and the search for identity is explored in this novel. In the mountains of rural Japan, in 1954, Satomi lives with her mother, Akiko, who runs a pub, or *izakaya.* Satomi has sufficient talent to enter piano competitions and subsequently goes to college on a music scholarship; however, she struggles in her search for an authentic life. Her independence is nearly thwarted at various times by her cruel stepsisters and her penury. Additionally, a man she started a ...more
Nov 06, 2009 Diane rated it it was amazing
Picking Bones From Ash is a stunning debut novel, about three generations of women living in Japan and the United States from just after WWII through the present day. Satomi, is a young girl growing up in the 1950's in a small Japanese village with her beautiful," single mother who owns a local pub. No one seems to know who the little girl's father is. The other women of the village are jealous of the mother's beauty and cruel to both mother and daughter, banning the two from the public bath.

Oct 06, 2009 Susan rated it really liked it
I read an advanced copy from amazon
Satomi is a female character that is difficult to like. Self absorbed and stubborn she suffered her mother's demands with grace. Things in the story are not what they seem to be. Are the antiques real or fake? Are they legal or stolen? The tale is like the masks that the Japanese people wear, some wear real and freightening masks for festivals and some just facial expressions that hide thoughts and emotions. Satomi and Rumi each put forth great effort to please
Kasa Cotugno
Jul 26, 2009 Kasa Cotugno rated it really liked it
How much information should be passed from mother to daughter? What is the purpose of withholding key information? Does the bond between mothers and daughters get strengthened or weakened when one or both are blessed with astounding talents? By setting this beautiful story in Japan and, briefly, in San Francisco, Marie Mutsuki Mockett ponders the cultural differences in answering these questions she raises. However, it is the Japanese settings that prove most fascinating to the western reader.

Feb 14, 2010 Ron rated it it was amazing
Just as you're getting into the story of Satomi, a young woman growing up in the 1950s whose mother encourages her classical music training in order to help her escape the poverty of her upbringing outside the major cities of Japan, Marie's novel fast forwards twenty years into the future, as Rumi, Satomi's daughter, starts prodding at everything she's been told about her mother's death. (And how, you'll be asking yourself, did Satomi end up with THIS man instead of THAT one?)

Marie brings these
Do Mai
Jan 05, 2016 Do Mai rated it it was amazing
A stunning, beautiful, haunting debut, Marie Mutsuki Mockett's Picking Bones from Ash has earned itself a place among the novels of Amy Tan and Lisa See. Mockett's writing is lyrical and expressive, but also unashamedly and clearly not a completely Western style, which might make this a difficult read for many, but also a perfect book for many East and Southeast women - perhaps South and West, too. The story, too, reflects Eastern styles of storytelling and thought, as it should, being a book wr ...more
Sylvia D Parnell
Good start, weak ending.

The beginning showed promise. I was interested to know this young girl's story, even though she was disdainful of nearly everyone around her. The important characters were sketching drawn, leaving me to wonder why she found them interesting. How she could just take off with people she barely knew. Abruptly the story changes to someone else's voice, and we have no context to help us figure out who is talking. It is the girl's daughter. This is an irritating tactic. Then my
Apr 24, 2011 Cassandra rated it really liked it
The first thing that I noticed as I read was the striking similarity in tone between this novel and the work of Amy Tan. It is a great compliment to the writer that Tan’s approval of the story appears on the book’s cover. It is deserving of such praise- “A book of intelligence and heart.” It is a book of great promise, and it delivers on so many levels. There are a few areas, however, where the story strays a bit too far from where it seems to be going.

The dual narratives of Satomi and her daugh
Mar 21, 2011 Roxanne rated it it was amazing
Picking Bones from Ash, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett, is a beautiful and almost-haunting novel that explores the struggles mothers and daughters face when trying to understand each other across cultures and generations. I was instantly moved by Mockett's choice of words. Each one feels like it was hand-picked for the novel after careful consideration. There is a lightness and a beauty to the descriptive prose in this novel that consumed me. I felt my own emotions being altered based on what was happ ...more
Clif Hostetler
Apr 04, 2010 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
This novel uses a story about three generations of women to explore Japanese culture and its differences from Western culture. Using the three perspectives of the grandmother (born and lived in Japan), the mother (born in Japan but exposed to Western culture), and the daughter (born and raised in the USA) the book explores the differences in culture viewed from the inside looking out and from the outside looking in. The story is filled with unanswered questions--the mother never learns who her f ...more
Martha Davis
May 05, 2011 Martha Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those rare books for me that I really liked even though I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters. While I could understand some of the motivation behind Atsuko, Satomi’s mother, she’s a rather cold mother and some of the choice she makes really bothered me. She marries in order to provide Satomi with the schooling she needs to be a concert pianist and then proceeds to push Satomi away from her. Satomi is young girl just trying to please her mother and to get her mother ...more
Oct 22, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
I'm amazed that more people have not heard of this or read it. I thought it was wonderful. The plot begins with Satomi, a young girl in Japan whose single mother makes sure she nurtures her artistic talent. Eventually, the mother marries, and Satomi feels pushed aside in her mother's affection by her step-sisters. We follow many twists and turns as Satomi tries to find her way as a young adult.

The story then jumps in space and time, and we discover Rumi, Satomi's daughter, being raised in Califo
Picking Bones from Ash is one of those subtle stories that has more depth than a reader initially realizes. Not just a ghost story, this is ultimately a story about family - what brings one together and what tears one apart. For those unfamiliar with Japan and their culture, Ms. Mockett introduces the reader to the intricacies of Japanese families, the beauty of its geography, and the grandeur of its religious sites while bridging the gap between East and West with a story that resonates no matt ...more
Apr 26, 2013 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Although the book is mainly about the three generations of women (Akoki, Satomi, and Rumi) and how they affect each other, the story is also about family in general. The story shows how women are affected by their mothers and their mother's decisions and also how the rest of our family has an influence on women.

The book is divided into five sections which alternate between different points in time for the characters of Satomi and Rumi.

The characters in this story are quite realistic, well writt
Mar 24, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it
Satomi is a young girl living with her single mother in Japan during the 1950's. She is a gifted pianist and success for both of them depends upon developing this talent. Satomi, headstrong, becomes restless with her life in Japan. Her relationship with her mother becomes strained. She eventually leaves Japan to attend school in the United States where she realizes that music is perhaps not something that she loves or wants to continue persuing. She begins collecting and selling Japanese antique ...more
Chris Beal
Feb 26, 2015 Chris Beal rated it liked it
Shelves: gaijin-in-japan
This book was intriguing but had some problems. The two women's stories didn't really fit together that well, even though they were mother and daughter. Perhaps it was that the voices were not that distinguishable. And the ending was really far, far out -- too far for me to want to follow.
Dec 17, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
A lovely debut novel that doesn't 'talk down' to its readers with unnecessary exposition or unrealistically redeemed characters.

There are a few places where the pacing gets a bit jerky and moments where the book indulges in the exotification that it so often critques.

Overall, though, it is beautifully written and offers some interesting thoughts on how people tend to endow objects with whatever emotionally properties they lack in the own lives. This ranges from the desire to possess those clos
Jun 05, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I really enjoyed the reflections and immersion in Japanese culture alongside the examination of the sometimes challenging relationship between mother and daughter. I was so involved with Satomi as be slightly angry when the story shifted to pick up the thread of her daughter Rumi, but the author wove the stories together so well that I eventually welcomed the second perspective. The characters felt very realistic - they are who they are, and there's no expectation that they will somehow work eve ...more
Jun 29, 2015 Liz rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
August 2015 book club book. Interesting story about two Japanese-American women, mother and daughter, and how their identities are intertwined with each other and with the Japanese culture. It reminded me a lot of an Amy Tan or Lisa See book. The writing was fine and the plot was good.
Mar 29, 2015 Kate rated it liked it
Is it fair for me to give a lower rating that this book deserves because it doesn't end like I want or the characters don't make the choices I hope they will? Of course not but I am very influenced by this in regard to this story.
Lesley Eichten
Oct 08, 2014 Lesley Eichten rated it really liked it
What a mesmerizing novel! Stretching from Japan to Paris to San Francisco, this story twists and turns and kept me wanting to read at stop lights! The end is a little mystical (strange?) but stick with it, just relax and enjoy the journey. Definitely recommend!
Feb 08, 2011 Sonja rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, own, 2011
Won from Firstreads. I was really looking forward to reading this book. While reading it I kept wavering between whether it should get 2 stars or 3. At times it flowed well, and I felt like I was really getting to know the characters. At other times, I found myself re-reading sections because there was a jump in time or a change in voice. Changing between Satomi and Rumi telling the story worked in some ways because we got each character's voice, but the transitions seemed abrupt and jarring. In ...more
Jun 11, 2016 Sis3 rated it liked it
I got annoyed with the story in this book. It got my attention about 2/3 of the way through and then quickly lost it again. The ghosts and magical realism part got tiresome. I liked the twists between characters and jumping around in time. I didn't like the Japanese pottery history and the journeys to the manga land with the moms. Overall, not a fan.
Feb 16, 2011 Amy rated it liked it
I respect this author's efforts a lot, but this book didn't work for me. The jump from the perspective of the girl to the woman was just jarring. I had to drop everything I felt about the girl and try to get to know this woman. I was willing to deal with that, get over it, and move on, and never really did when this over-the-top caricature of a mother showed up. At that point I lost interest. I finished the book, but my heart wasn't really in it. It was almost as if the beginning and end of two ...more
Koji Iwata
Jan 06, 2016 Koji Iwata rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 24, 2010 Amy rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010-books
This is not a book that will stay with me very long, yet I am still glad I read it. For a first novel, it is very intriguing. Switching voices between mother and daughter, this novel involves relationships, Japanese tradition, art dealing, and ghosts! Mockett delves into the difficult relationships between mothers and daughters and what it feels like to grow up without a history. Prepare yourself to not always like the characters, but still feel emotionally involved in their lives. You desperate ...more
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Comments on Chapter 1 2 12 Nov 12, 2009 12:04PM  
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MARIE MUTSUKI MOCKETT was born in California to a Japanese mother and an American father. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in San Francisco with her husband and son.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett's family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfat
More about Marie Mutsuki Mockett...

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“My mother always told me that there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably, and masterfully talented. This is different than being intelligent or even educated. (Satomi from Picking Bones From Ash) 13 likes
“…you look like a loved person. It always shows on people’s faces. The ones who discover love when they are much older always look startled. The loved ones expect it from other people.” 8 likes
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