My last read is Dans les plis du kimono by french author Jocelyne Godard.
The book is about the early medieval Japan and the installment of the first Shogun of Japan, Minamoto Yoritomo. The main character is Masako, his wife. The story begins from young Masako who runs away from her home, and tries to free Yoritomo from his prison. The general feeling of the beginning of the book is of a fairy tale, of unbelievable action and very far away from reality. Compared to other fiction or non fiction of Medieval Japan, the novel presents things in very romantic vision, based more on emotion and less on facts, as the point of view is far from realism. Masako is a young woman who passes a set of trials to be able to free her future husband and plans to install him as the first Shogun of Japan.
The events that succeed in a rapid fashion exactly as Masako wants inflict more the feeling of a fairy tale book. Masako grows as a character and gathers multiple friends in order to achieve her goals. Every stranger that she meets somehow adheres to her quest, and the two women that she picks from her home and herself somehow manage to pass through weeks of traveling, hunger, night sky sleeping to travel across Japan to free a man from prison that nobody else could have done.
After the success of releasing Yoritomo the long journey of building an army begins. Somehow Masako manages to convince fishermen, farmers and other peasants to join her army and becoming samurai, by training for years in a camp far away from home, from their families, left alone with no comfort and nobody to work the field for them. Yet all these men become samurai and worship Masako as their god of war, and ready to die for her and Yoritomo to overthrow the Taira clan who has been using too much power from their position as military rulers of Japan and supporters of a child emperor that can be manipulated through regency.
Another theme we can underline in the novel is the women’s condition in Japanese society at that time. Masako becomes the first wife of the future Shogun, however, even if they both share a deep and sincere love for each other, Yoritomo feels natural to have other women in his life, especially for physical pleasures. Masako somehow prequels the modern woman, in love with her husband, supporting him in any means possible, but also wanting to have his full attention and not willing to share him with other women. Initially she manages to dispatch the women around her husband, by finding other men for them or by pushing them aside, but having to also deal with political intrigues and finding a way to make a political career for her husband, her own pregnancies, she finds herself abandoned and unwillingly accepts her husband’s concubines.
Most difficult parts of Masako’s life are the lost of her pregnancies, the failure in early delivery of a male heir to her husband, and to cope with her husband’s concubines and their bastard sons while she couldn’t have one of her own until later.
Masako succeeds in making her husband a shogun and deals with all possible court problems that he has. She manages to convince the Emperor to support Yoritomo, she resists seduction attempts from other high ranking officials that wanted to stain her name in order to get advantages or offer support, she manages to get her daughter around the Emperor and also copes with her daughter’s death to a plague epidemic.
What Masako fails is the education of her children, especially her first son, Yoriie, who was supposed to take the shogun throne after his father. When Yoritomo dies in a stupid accident, Masako finds herself alone, as a woman, trying to protect everything that she built for her husband, but with a father that wanted power for himself and his own clan, and a son who had no wisdom to be a real Shogun. She has to assassinate his son’s wife and child to remove the bad influence on him and remove him from his shogun position to put her second son into power.
She has to take arms once again to defend against the Emperor who wanted to destroy the shogunate that she constructed in over 30 years.
Even if the book starts as a fairy tale and presents facts in a very romantic way, it turns out to be a solid depiction of the era, and presents Masako, a very strong woman driven by her pure ambition and her love for Yoritomo, that changes the faith of a nation and her people.
Yoritomo is a strong man, but driven by war rage and his love for women, who finds himself in a position that few men ever were. He is a strong leader, but also unmerciful, as he executes his own brothers, and forces the women he has crushes on to become his concubines.
Overall the novel has many good parts and somehow a bitter ending for Masako’s life and her work and her children. The general feeling is that no other character could rise to the expectations and the needs for Masako’s requests. She keeps her pain forever with her.