Nesa Sivagnanam's Reviews > Fudoki

Fudoki by Kij Johnson
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Mar 06, 12

Read in March, 2012

Fudoki by Kij Johnson. I have to admit that I picked up the book because the cover illustration is of a Japanese warrior cat woman.

The story is set in a Japanese myth-influenced universe and revolves around Kagaya-hime. She may be a woman. She's sometimes a warrior or a philosopher or even a reluctant friend. She may truly be a cat or perhaps is a figment of the imagination of a dying princess.

The tale moves between the princess who might be making it up and writing it down in the twilight of her life; and Kagaya-hime, the cat woman.

She was a cat living with a clan. She had her own fudoki - an oral history of all the female cats in her clan. A fire kills all the cats so she loses her tale, her fudoki. And without a tale, she is no one. She cannot join another fudoki without losing herself so she chooses to walk along the Tokaido road because it, unlike her, knows where it's going. She only recognised that the Tokaido had a direction, a meaning, and this made it unlike her.

Along the way she meets the kami of Japan, Gods who in their curiosity about this creature new to Japan, give her a human shape. Not a cat but not quite a woman either. Her nature is that of a cat. Her eyes see further, her ears are sharper. She hunts and kills like a cat.

She does not understand the change or why it has happened, only that it has. So she journeys along the road and all the while the princess writes and breathes her life away. The end is perhaps the surprise and you get to decide how much of a choice we all really have in the vast scheme of the universe. Do we walk freely or are we sometimes nudged along paths because at the end of the path there is one waiting who has a great need for us. And we might not have chosen that path on our own.

Fudoki is a tale of two journeys perhaps. It's looking in the mirror of the Other and perhaps seeing onself truly. The prose is elegant. It's moves along the pages with a feline grace. There are sentences and paragraphs that strike chords deep inside and I think we will all see something of ourselves in the cat or the princess or both.

"What are these voices?"
"The gods," the kami said. "The eight million gods, speaking all at once."
"Are they all roads?"
"That would be a lot of roads. No. They are peace. War. Rice, barley. A thousand forges, ten thousand gates. This lake, that pond, the other river... A tree, all trees, a forest, all forests..."
"How can there be so many of you, and I have never met a god before this?"
"How would you know if you met one? You cats live in a cat-shaped world..."
"And now I am not even a cat," she said bitterly.
"You are no more and no less than you ever were," the kami said. "You lost nothing that was yours in the first place."

and in the end ...
"Who says you are on a different road than you were," the kami said. "There are a lot of roads, and they go everywhere. Some of them can't be seen. You are coming to the end of this one."
"But then what?" she said, her eyes filling with tears.
"You will settle down. make a new fudoki."
"Alone?"
...."When's the last time you wre alone? You tale is a thousand long already - men, women, horses...."

She opened her mouth to speak, but a thought came to her and she said nothing, her mouth gaping open, forgotten. "I never tried," she finally said. "I wept and complained and mourned, but I never thought... But why?
"You needed a home. Could a cat come a thousand miles?...."
"Did I come here or was I summoned?" ....

In the end I loved the book perhaps because of the cat or maybe it was the journey and the way it played out in the end. It's a book I see myself re-reading again and again.
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message 1: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie Fudoki by Kij Johnson. I have to admit that I picked up the book because the cover illustration is of a Japanese warrior cat woman.

I might have done the same thing - it looks intriguing. Your review too.


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