From internationally bestselling crime writer Natsuo Kirino comes a mythical feminist noir about family secrets, broken loyalties, and the search from truth in a deceitful world.
In a place like no other, on a mystical island in the shape of tear drop, two sisters are born into a family of oracles. Kamikuu is admired far and wide for her otherworldly beauty; small and headstrong Namima learns to live in her sister’s shadow. On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is chosen to become the next Oracle, serving the realm of light, while Namima is forced to serve the realm of darkness destined to spend eternity guiding the spirits of the deceased to the underworld.
As the sisters serve opposite fates, Namima embarks on a journey that takes her from the experience of first love to the aftermath of scalding betrayal. Caught in an elaborate web of treachery, she travels between the land of the living and the Realm of the Dead, seeking vengeance and closure.
At the heart of this exquisitely dark tale, Kirino masterfully reimagines the ancient Japanese creation myth of Izanami and Izanaki. A provocative, fantastical saga, The Goddess Chronicle tells a sumptuous story of sex, murder, gods and goddesses, and bittersweet revenge.
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Natuso Kirino is a leading figure in the recent boom of female writers of Japanese hard-boiled crime fiction. A prolific writer, she is most famous for her 1998 novel, Out, which received the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, Japan's top mystery award and was a finalist (in translation) for the 2004 Edgar Award. So far, four of her novels have been translated into English: Out, Grotesque, Real World and What Remains.
Rebecca Copeland is a professor of Japanese literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where her research and teaching focuses on women, gender, and translation studies. A fan of Natsuo Kirino's work, she also translated her 2003 novel GrotesqueExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
And so it came to pass that sisters who had been the best of friends were forced to follow separate paths. ‘Separate’ is not quite the right word. Our paths were more distinctly different, as if she were to follow the day and I the night; or she the inner road and I the outer; she to traverse the heavens and I the earth. That was the ‘law’ of the island – that was our ‘destiny’. Of course, as a child, I had no way of understanding what it meant.
The following day Kamikuu gathered up her belongings and left the house. From now on she would live with Mikura-sama in her tiny cottage just beneath the entrance to the Kyoido cape. Because I had always believed Kamikuu and I would be together for ever, it hurt me to see her leave. I stood there and watched her move further and further away. I think she was sad to leave me, too. Whenever she could evade Mikura-sama’s careful watch, she would turn back to me, her eyes full of tears.
Poor Kamikuu, ‘Child of Gods’. It must have been even more difficult for her than it was for me. She was taken from her parents, from her brothers, from me, and from that day forward she was expected to train as the next Oracle. No longer would we play together on the beaches or run naked through the rain. No longer would we wile away our time collecting flowers and doing all the things children on our island were wont to do. The sweet days of childhood had ended so suddenly.
It wasn’t long before the island chief gave me a new role to fulfill. My mother and the other women in the village took turns to prepare Kamikuu’s meals. The chief told me that it would fall to me to deliver them to her. Apparently Mikura-sama had made her own preparations while she lived alone. But now, with another under her roof, my mother and others in the village had to prepare and deliver meals made especially for Kamikuu.
I carried the food to Kamikuu once a day; she divided it into two and ate it in two sittings. We used two baskets for this purpose, both carefully woven in tight plaits from the fronds of the betel palm, both with lids. Each day I carried one of the baskets laden with food and left it in front of Mikura-sama’s cottage. Then I took up the empty basket, which had contained the meal from the previous evening, and carried it home to my mother.
My duty came with harsh restrictions. I must never lift the lid and look inside the basket. If Kamikuu had left any food in it, I was not to eat it but to carry the basket to the top of the cape on my way home and throw all of the contents over the cliff and into the sea below. Finally, I was never to speak to anyone of these matters. Those were the four rules I was given.
When I heard about my new assignment I was beside myself with joy. I now had an excuse to see Kamikuu and I would be able to learn more about her new life. What was Mikura-sama teaching her? How was she spending her days? I was bursting with curiosity.
The next day, as dusk set in, Mother handed me the basket. The weave was so tight, it was impossible to see what was inside. But as I carried it, the smells that wafted up from it were so intoxicatingly delicious I nearly grew dizzy. No doubt it contained a veritable feast. When Mother was preparing the food she had told me I wasn’t allowed to watch so I had gone off to play. But from the way the contents now sloshed in their containers I guessed she had made a sea-turtle broth. Or perhaps sea-snake soup. And there was the smell of grilled fish, and the dried fish the men brought home after their long sea voyages. But even more precious was the handful of steamed rice I imagined to be inside the basket, wrapped neatly in a bamboo leaf.
Of course I had never tasted anything quite so delicious. I doubted that anyone else on our island would have eaten such delicacies. Far from it. Everyone was always hungry. The island was small and there was a limit to what we could grow. As it was, the island association was hard pressed to make the little we had go round. All it took was a heavy storm that damaged our crops and it wasn’t unusual for some to starve to death. Sometimes a group of men went to sea and never came back because there was nothing for them on the island. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I couldn’t help feeling envious that Kamikuu was allowed to eat such wonderful food.
Once Mother handed the basket to me, I carried it with the utmost care to the little cottage on the edge of the Kyoido grove. The road to Mikura-sama’s house extended upward to the cape and I could hear the sound of the waves. I could also hear the murmur of Mikura-sama offering prayers. And just beneath her voice I heard Kamikuu’s. I pricked up my ears to catch the words they chanted, humming in rhythm with them, not thinking about what I was doing.
For a thousand years, the northern cape,
For a hundred years, the southern beach,
A cord strung across the seas, calms the waves.
A net stretched across the mountains collects the winds.
Sanctify your song,
Rectify my dance.
Today, this very day,
May the gods
Live for ever.
‘Is someone there?’
When I heard Mikura-sama’s stern voice I shrank back. My grandmother opened the door and stepped outside. Her eyes narrowed into a momentary smile when she caught sight of me. I remembered how she had pronounced me ‘impure’ at the ceremony earlier, yet now she was gazing at me with the affection a grandmother bestows on a beloved grandchild. Relieved, I began to explain, ‘Mikura-sama, the island chief told me I should bring this basket up here to you.’
As I handed it to her, I peered into the dimly lit cottage. Kamikuu was kneeling stiffly on the wooden floor. She glanced over her shoulder at me and smiled with delight, waving her tiny hand. I smiled, too, and waved back, but Mikura-sama quickly pulled the door shut.
‘Namima, thank you for your trouble. When you come tomorrow, leave the basket in front of the door. Here’s the basket from yesterday. Kamikuu didn’t eat all the food so what she left is in here. Go up to the cape and throw the leftovers over the edge. And you mustn’t sneak a bite for yourself. That, you must never, ever do.’
Basket in hand, I cut my way through the thickets of pandan and banyan. Hardy pemphis shrubs clung to the side of the cape as though climbing to the summit. I was so hungry that I was tempted to open the basket and steal a bite of the leftover food, but Mikura-sama’s stern words rang in my ears. Once I reached the summit, I opened the basket and hurled the contents over the side of the cliff. Gingerly I worked my way to the edge and looked down. The morsels of food floated for a few seconds on the rolling waves, then sank.
It seemed so wasteful. But my mother and grand¬mother had given strict instructions. The finest food the island could provide was to be gathered for Kamikuu and what she left was to be thrown away. I had no choice but to obey. And the task I’d been given had allowed me a glimpse of my sister. She had looked well so I was happy. I began to sing as I turned for home.
Little girls of my age rarely walked alone at night. As I hurried along the southern beach, the cliffs glittered white under the full moon. I could see the bats taking flight from under the droopy branches of the tea trees. Suddenly I was terrified, my eyes darting left and right. Tomorrow I would make this trip again, and the night after that, and after that as well. Would I ever grow used to it? How could I? The night scenes were so frightening.
The moon shone brightly over the beach, and I saw a person. Someone had come to meet me, perhaps, worried for my safety. I started to run but almost as soon as I did I froze. I didn’t recognise the person: a woman, with long hair flowing down her back, wearing white. She was plump, her skin fair. ‘Mikura-sama,’ I called, but stopped. She was similar to my grandmother, but she was not Mikura-sama. The woman caught sight of me and smiled. With barely two hundred people on the island, how could there be someone I’d never seen before?
She must be a goddess. Overcome, I felt gooseflesh rise on my arms. My legs would not move. The woman turned and walked into the sea, disappearing into the darkness. I had met a goddess! I had met a goddess who had smiled at me with love. My heart surged with joy. I felt immense gratitude to the island chief and Mikura-sama for assigning to me this task. The goddess did not appear to me again, but my vision of her became my most precious secret. From that moment on I was able to endure the hardship of delivering Kamikuu’s food.
And so I began the ritual of walking the path to the Kyoido cottage with the basket of food. I went every day without fail. Some days the summer sun beat down mercilessly; on others bitter winds swept in from the north.
There were days when I was buffeted by rain and on others there were sand storms. It didn’t matter. I carried the basket to that roughly hewn door and brought away the basket that had been left there. The basket I took was filled with the most delectable food, and the basket I carried away was full of the food Kamikuu had left. No matter how delicious the feast, she seemed to eat hardly any of it. Still, I threw what remained over the edge of the cliff and hurried home. I knew that Mikura-sama was listening: she wanted to hear the food hit the surface of the water, making sure that I had thrown away what Kamikuu had left. I did as I was told, and I never looked inside the basket.
It seemed that Mikura-sama ate none of the delicacies herself, and I did not understand why. I wanted to ask my mother about it, but I was afraid to. I was ‘impure’. And I was afraid there was some connection between the two.
A year passed before I caught another glimpse of Kamikuu. On the island we offer prayers on the thirteenth night of the e...
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