2005, 258 p
Ah, synchronicity! Within days of reading Lisa’s review of this book at ANZLitLovers, why there it was sitting on my library shelf. It’s out of print, she tells us, and very good she says, so off to the borrowing machine I go!
You’re drawn in from the opening paragraph:
They took away all my research papers when I was arrested on the mountain in Japan. As the four policemen crowded into my cubicle, neatly piling up my reams of handwritten notes and packing my computer into its travelling case, I sat on the bed and started to tremble….
…Later, during my interrogation, an interpreter with a twittery voice read out some badly translated excerpts of my notes. Did I write that? I wondered. Did he say that? I may never have those notes returned, so now I can only write from memory. Some events are hazy, others I remember so clearly that my eyes ache from the pain of those days living in the sharp light reflected off the sea around the peninsula.
Hilda Moore is an Australian PhD student, researching the establishment and collapse of Koba, a Japanese community dedicated to rescuing traditional folk-arts and performing them for new audiences during the 1970s, based at The Factory on a Japanese island. It combined radicalism with tradition, artistic high-mindedness with more human jealousy, manipulation and power-trips. There were certainly cultish aspects to the group, which revolved around the master Yasuda sensei, and it collapsed after the death of one of its members, only to be revived again twenty years later. This is Hilda’s opportunity- she agrees to act as record-keeper for this second manifestation of the group, while interviewing the original members for her research, some of whom have rejoined; others who eschew any contact with it.
The book has a complicated structure: the stories she pieces together of the original Koba, the interviews from her informants who each give their own conflicting perspectives on Koba and its collapse, and her own experience as she and another Western girl, Eloise, join the second-generation Koba as it re-establishes itself at its original home at the Factory. Suspended throughout are the present-tense episodes from the quiet, sterile, lonely and controlled jail. We do not know why she is there, and it seems to exist completely outside time and place.
It was mainly this jail narrative that kept me going through the book, and at the risk of spoiling I will just say that I was rather disappointed by the ending. The ending is beautifully written and open-ended, but I didn’t think that it was strong enough for what had come before.
Unless I didn’t ‘get’ the ending. That’s a distinct possibility.
My rating: 7/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
Read because: Lisa spoke so highly of it.