Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Trade paperback, 320 pgs
Source: Personal Library
Translated by: Rebecca Copeland
I first came across Natsuo Kirino's novel when I read her most famous crime fiction, Out. It was a very intense read and I was not surprised at all that it received the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, Japan's top mystery award and was a finalist (in translation) for the 2004 Edgar Award. Her other novels, Grotesque and Real World were published subsequently and they received good reviews too, though Out is still considered her best work due to the thrilling and disturbing plot. It is no doubt a masterpiece in many readers' opinions.
The Goddess Chronicle, her latest release, however is unlike her previous works. Based on the Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi, this tale is about the relations between gods and men, men and women, yin and yang as well as life and death. It is a story between two sisters who live on a small, remote island called Umihebi - the island of sea snakes as the seas surrounding the island were abundant with them. On their island, It is believed that they still ruled by the ancient gods and there are traditions and the people have to adhere to the strict customs which has passed on to them from generations to generations.The women would collect sea snakes, tend the mountain goats, collect shellfish or seaweed from the shores,but the most important task they do is to pray. They pray for the safe return of their men fishing on the high seas and most importantly, they pray for the prosperity of the island. There would be a great miko, the high priestess known as the Oracle, is responsible for all the prayer rites.
Two sisters, Kamikuu and Namima, were born from a prestigious family where their grandmother, Mikura-sama is the Oracle. The younger sister, Namima is very close with her sister although they are so different in their looks and personality. Kamikuu is the sturdy girl and the cleverest child on the island and she is a beauty too, while Namima is happy enough to live in her sister's shadow. However, on Kamikuu's sixth birthday, she is sent to train with their grandmother to become the next Oracle and this forces them apart. Namima is also requested not to see Kamikuu as she is proclaimed as the impure one. It is a tradition that there is always a yin and yang in the family so if the elder sister is yin, then the other will be yang. Yin represents light and yang is the darkness so it is no wonder that Namima would receive different treatment from the islanders. Not only that, she is also to serve the goddess of darkness.
Shocked by this discovery and the traditions that had laid so long ago, Namima decides to change her destiny and there begins her adventure in The Goddess Chronicle. Her journey is a rough one, but it allows her to experience the real meaning of love and kinship, as well as the dark side of bitterness and revenge. And most importantly, the difference between gods and men and how it is like to be a human being. Part fictional and part mythology, The Goddess Chronicle explores the humanity and the emotions of all beings.
I have to say I had a wonderful experience reading this novel because not only Natsuo Kirino has once again captured my attention through her great writing skill and her most unforgettable plot, but what most made this book such a satisfying read is the thought-provoking message behind the story. I couldn't put my feelings into words; this is one novel that you need to read it to experience it.