Sunday, February 23, 2014

Of Nightingales that Weep by Katherine Paterson

I read this book years ago when I was about ten years old, and for some reason it bubbled up in my mind again out of the blue and I went looking for it. I remember how unusual it seemed to me at the time of that first long ago reading, it was the most adult children’s book I had ever encountered, it was also the first historical novel with an oriental setting that I had ever read, it’s set in twelfth century Japan. It’s still an unusual little novel and I’m glad I revisited it.

Eleven year old Takiko is the daughter of a samurai warrior who was killed in battle. She is brought up believing that “the daughter of a samurai never weeps.” When her mother remarries, they leave their life in the city behind and move to a rustic farmhouse in the country.

Takiko is horrified when she meets her new stepfather, Goro is an ugly dwarf, his work as a potter has given him a powerful chest and strong arms that hang down to his knees, and the sun has burned him chestnut brown. She hates everything about her new life, including exchanging her elegant silks for homespun, and working at menial tasks like shelling beans, washing, and sewing. But everyone works on a farm and she is expected to do her part.

At thirteen, her beauty and talent as a koto player win her an appointment as a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court. Takiko is overjoyed to leave the farm. Takiko is happy at court and her beauty and singing soon attract a handsome young samurai, Hideo.

When war erupts and the court is forced to flee, Takiko must choose between the man she loves and her loyalty to the royal family she serves.

The story has a rather unusual ending that rather surprised me as a child, which I won’t spoil now for any prospective readers, and, reading it again as an adult after the passage of so many years, it still did a little, but I was able to appreciate it more now and, as an author myself, to applaud the author for having the courage to write it when it would have been so easy, and maybe even tempting, to travel the expected route.


Meg said...

Oh, I remember being SO CONFUSED at the ending when I was younger, and rereading the part about her mother's marriage and then the last few pages, back and forth, wondering what I missed!

Brandy Purdy said...

That was my reaction too. I thought it was extremely different and daring, definitely not the typical ending or one I was expecting at all.