Friday, February 3, 2012

Historical Fiction: The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier

Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: November 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: won from Dream
Read: as an AP Art History supplement
Pages: 494
Reading time: two weeks

From GoodReads: Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colorful world of nineteenth-century Edo, in which courtesans rub shoulders with poets, warriors consort with actors, and the arts flourish in an unprecedented moment of creative upheaval. Oei and Hokusai live among writers, novelists, tattoo artists, and prostitutes, evading the spies of the repressive shogunate as they work on Hokusai's countless paintings and prints. Wielding her brush, rejecting domesticity in favor of dedication to the arts, Oei defies all expectations of womanhood--all but one. A dutiful daughter to the last, she will obey the will of her eccentric father, the man who created her and who, ultimately, will rob her of her place in history.

My review: The Printmaker's Daughter turned out to be another really long, slow, but definitely worthwhile historical read. The big stickler with it - why it took me so long to finish the book - is that there's no central plot, just a very interesting examination of Oei's entire life. I loved learning more about Hokusai and his daughter, though, and Govier is a master at incorporating a general feel for the era and culture into her novel.

Oei is a fascinating historical character. What art history books never let on to about Hokusai is the controversy surrounding many of his works: "real," studio work, forgeries - or the work of his youngest daughter, at times regarded as a better artist than Hokusai himself? Govier takes this controversy and works it into a magnificently-written novel, interweaving personal details of the famous artist and his family with a daughter's struggle for individualism in a patriarchal society and the larger events and movements of 19th-century Japan. The result is an impressive, cohesive work of fiction that, after a while, sucks the reader into Oei's world and the trials of growing up and finding oneself under the shadow of a "great" man.

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