Oei is a painter in her father’s studio, his oldest and most faithful disciple. Her father, Hokusai, is a famed artist throughout Edo, and his influen...moreOei is a painter in her father’s studio, his oldest and most faithful disciple. Her father, Hokusai, is a famed artist throughout Edo, and his influence is reaching other parts of Japan as well. Despite the shogun’s censorship of art and free speech, Hokusai’s work only grows in popularity, and he even sells his art to the Dutch traders who are allowed limited engagement with Japan.
From the day she was born, her mother—Hokusai’s second wife—gave Oei up to her father, and the two became a pair. As Oei grows older, she becomes more and more like her father, and as the old man’s fame increases, he depends upon her steady hand and eye for vibrant color—though he rarely acknowledges their symbiotic relationship. The charismatic Hokusai claims Oei’s talent as his own even as it begins to take on its own life and outshine the old man’s famous style, and Oei submits to him out of duty.
Hokusai is eccentric, to say the least. After his second wife dies and he is gripped by palsy, Hokusai depends upon Oei to support him. “Suddenly he was all I had, and I was all he had,” she says. Her support of him is physical, emotional, and artistic, and it leaves Oei no time to branch out on her own. Such independence would be a betrayal. Hokusai’s life improbably stretches twice the length of the average Japanese man of his times, but after the old man’s eventual death, Oei is offered a chance to claim her many works under Hokusai’s name. Will she leap at the chance for greatness, or will she continue on as a ghost brush?
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the unstoppable influx of foreigners into a closed Japan. As Oei ages and becomes more and more independent, the world seems to be opening up to her. “My old life and its people were becoming relics,” she comments. “A new world was advancing on us.”
The author explains in the afterword that she first became interested on Oei—“the ghost brush”—after seeing an exhibition of Hokusai’s many works in D.C.’s Freer Gallery of Art. Comparing his works side by side, it becomes apparent, she writes, that the painter known as Hokusai could not have done this alone. Especially not the final painting, said to have been completed in his eighty-ninth year, with fine details and a total departure from the old man’s style.
She writes, “I knew then that no matter how difficult it would be for an amateur and a non-speaker of Japanese to crack this world, I would write the story.” Employing short, staccato sentences for much of the book, Govier explores what Oei’s life might have been like. Govier appears to have done her research into the fascinating theory that there were two artists painting under the seal and signature of Hokusai.
But a theory a story does not make. I need conflict, I need shape, I need to feel that this is story and it is going somewhere. Instead, we see a woman’s life stretch and meander over six decades as she grapples with her and her father’s identities as artists. That’s a cool idea, but where is the rising action, the climax?
Anything would have spiced up the narrative. Without conflict, without that certain sense of something about to happen, there can be no true tension. Any tension feels fabricated, false, unsupported. The only tension I could find was Oei’s struggle to find herself and to be true to that self. That’s a nice theme, but you can’t tell a story about themes.
The best part about the book is the end. That sounds cheeky, but it’s true. At the end, Oei’s life as a painter and, therefore, a kind of historian/storyteller culminates in the ultimate ghost story: the story of the ghost painter, the woman who was hidden from history but whose art lives on. A great idea, but one that could have been refined and shaped into a more compact and powerful story.
Bo Forbes, a longtime therapist and also a yoga practitioner, struggled with the disconnect she saw between the physical and emotional therapy worlds....moreBo Forbes, a longtime therapist and also a yoga practitioner, struggled with the disconnect she saw between the physical and emotional therapy worlds. Often, she says, “we can feel, rather than think, the emotional experiences that heal us.” Instead of just talking through emotional patterns, she began introducing breathwork and restorative yoga poses into her clients’ therapy plans.
This was a time before the emotionally healing benefits of yoga truly took hold in Western society, and Forbes was amazed by the transformation she saw in her patients. Rather than repeating the same mental “stories” over and over in therapy sessions, her patients began to address—and overcome—their negative emotional patterns by physically incorporating emotional balance.
Restorative yoga is based on the idea that the mind and the body speak to each other more often when we think. It combines the physical motions of yoga with the mental workout of meditation, thereby embodying the emotional healing process.
Forbes presents the medical explanations for why yoga has such an astounding effect on our health, and she introduces five ways to transform one’s emotional patterns: calming the nervous system; regulating the breath; connecting with direct experience; quieting the mind; and changing the narratives you tell yourself that reflect your self-concept and world view.
She then outlines the differences between those who suffer anxiety, depression, or some blend of both. According to the kind of anxiety-depression afflicting you—and this can change as your emotional patterns change—Forbes then recommends restorative poses that will help calm or reinvigorate your nervous system.
I truly enjoyed this book. It illuminates the often murky world of emotional imbalance, while also offering simple, no-equipment-required solutions. This review could’ve been a lot longer; I underlined and bookmarked countless passages. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a medicine-free way to ease stress and develop healthy emotional patterns.