Sunday, June 28, 2009

Take a trip to Heian Japan and win a book ... and we have a winner!

I.J. Parker sets her series about the official-cum-investigator Sugawara Akitada in eleventh-century Japan, part of that country's Heian period. That long, peaceful era is known among other things for its exquisite, refined courtly literature.

Perhaps that's why Parker opens The Convict's Sword, sixth book in the series, with a squalid encounter, a shabby quarter and a brutal killing – a nice counterpoint to the expectations that her readers may have of the period.

Any author of historical mysteries must balance the history and the mystery, to entertain while remaining reasonably faithful to the historical period, to portray the period without writing a travel brochure or a textbook. Near the novel's beginning, Parker nicely integrates the sword maker, a staple figure in Japanese art, into the story and rather gracefully suggests the respect with which he regards his craft:

"Akitada received the sword and turned to Sukenari. `Please forgive my friend. He's very enthusiastic and forgets his manners when his heart is moved.'

"`I understand. Mine is moved in the same way. The gods dwell in that blade.'"
The Heian period is unusual in at least one respect: Its best-known authors are women. I'll send a copy of The Convict's Sword to the first person who tells me the name of either one of the Heian's two best-known writers and the work for which she is known today.
We have a winner! A reader from British Columbia knew that one of the titles was that beguiling book of aesthetic contemplation, refined complaining and palace gossip, The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. The other is The Tale of Genji of Lady Murasaki Shikibu. Your prize will be on its way soon. Enjoy it, and thanks to all who entered.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

How lovely, Peter. I'm very touched. Your critique is even more gratifying since it comes at the novel from the culture rather than the usual considerations of plot and character. Thank you so much.

June 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're quite welcome. I've always admired that double burden that writers of historical mysteries take on, and I'm always alive to the ways authors try to deal with this is. A messy killing in a refined era is a nice way of doing it.

June 28, 2009  

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