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Seiichi

The Book of Loss, Julith Jedamus

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This is a story about jealousy. It is also about lies and betrayals, trysts and exiles, palace intrigues and plagues. It begins with the rant of a disgraced princess, and ends with the disappearance of the woman who wronged her. The setting is exotic: the courts and streets of Kyoto, the imperial capital of Japan, in the late tenth century.

 

A diary is stolen, and its pages are circulated throughout the palace. It reveals a tale of rivalry and deceit. Two women, both ladies-in-waiting to the Empress, fall in love with the same conniving man. He is exiled for seducing the Vestal of Ise, a young girl who is the protectoress of the realm. The two women scheme to bring him back---and to win first place in his affections. Their rivalry reaches such a pitch that it threatens to undermine the rule of the Emperor himself.

 

At the heart of this story is a tragedy waiting to happen. The narrator of the book has the misfortune of loving a man and allowing that love to hold sway over her. This is the story of her downfall.

 

In trying to secure the affections of the exiled Kanesuke, the narrator plays a dangerous game and makes a move from which she can never recover. She subsequently suffers loss in many ways, but ultimately, by the end of the book, there's the sense that she had lost her sanity to love long ago. It's something that's hinted at in the disgraced princess' prologue, and something that becomes apparent as the book progresses. The princess warns that the diary is written by a woman overcome with jealousy, whose words are full of lies: the ravings of a woman whose character became corrupted when she lost the affections of a scoundrel to another.

 

In the words of her only friend, the narrator is a liar deserving of another liar. The diary confirms her to be a spiteful woman, well-versed in intrigue. However, it becomes apparent that the narrator is not completely unlikable: she is simply a woman searching for someone she can love: someone who is genuinely able to return her feelings. She is capable of great love, yet she fears she will bring ruin to those she loves. Events she has unwittingly set into motion soon overwhelm her, and she feels the full repercussions of her misplaced love for Kanesuke. Her diary contains writings of the love, hope, jealousy, and suspicion she feels as a result of this sorry affair.

 

The language is sparse and cold but becomes lyrical whenever the narrator thinks of her lover. The scenes the author inspires are reminiscent of those found in The Tale of Genji, revealing the culture and aesthetics of the Heian period. There is understandably little poetry, but the author manages to fill these gaps with short tales and legends that beautifully convey the narrator's thoughts. However, the writing betrays the hand of a modern western author. There is a candidness in the diary that should not be there. It is uncharacteristic, but highlights the tenderness the narrator is capable of and her vulnerability---perhaps a glimpse of the narrator's true personality before she became corrupted by spite and jealousy: a reminder of a time before her life became dominated by sadness and loss. Loss: it is on the contemplation of this word and what it means for her that the book ends.

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