Junky

I have read Junky, by William Burroughs.

The novel is one of the strongest depicted I read lately (maybe ever). It presents all the aspects of heroin addiction and peddling, in a personal but almost cynical way, without hiding anything. Our main character and the first person story teller, starts to be a normal person,  we are presented with a small background, and we are forced to understand how this person can turn into someone else, totally changed, whose life starts to circle around junk, the name they use for the heroin, opium, morphine and derivatives.

Being permanently in the low circles of the city, without much distraction, with a lot of experiments and without having a real goal in life, our character starts his habit by first trying out junk out of curiosity, or just because he had it and did not sell it, or because some of his acquaintances told him he can try it himself. Will, by his name, does not look to have much to do with his time, and is eager to try out new things. He starts with smoking tobacco, weed, trying out homosexuality, and eventually begins using plenty of substances more or less legal to see how they feel.

He starts off to sell junk, buy, spending time with a lot of junk addicts, how at some points he is broke and cannot sustain his habit,.He describes how they were stealing from metro drunkards (lush) to get money to be able to use junk, because just buying and selling was not profitable enough for their personal demand. One of the most strong emotion is depicted when he starts to experience junk sickness: withdrawal symptoms. The feelings are very strong, and the physical pain, which is said to be as worse as it can possibly get.

He is arrested, charged, imprisoned, and multiple times he attempts to get rid of his habit, at some point he even takes a two weeks cure inside a rehabilitation hospital. During his junk experience, he manages to get rid of junk several times, sometimes even for more months in a row, until eventually turning back to junk and being enslaved again.

The story is very sharp, very personal, made of very accurate observations, starting from how they were preparing the junk, how they could not inject it properly, how they were feeling when they could not get the regular shots. The darkness and the horrors of junk addiction and sickness are very real and blunt for the reader.

Junky is a story of the falling, it’s an explanation of how a normal person like you and me, can degrade to the point where to do anything to be able to get the next shot, to get a habit that is solely their purpose in life, even though they could have believed it at the start. It also clears out many things for me at least, that I did not consider previously, and some myths that have less sense after reading Junky. One of them is the addiction: one does not get a habit after one or a few shots, months are needed. Others are that no peddlers want kids as customers, since they spill out everything if questions and have no real money, and that cocaine and other substances do not give a real addiction: junk sickness.

I did previously read A scanner darkly,  but Junky is much stronger in emotion, feeling and personal involvement. My verdict is that it’s a brilliant book for everyone, not just people interested in the subject.

 

A perfect peace

I continued my read of Amos Oz, with the novel A perfect peace.

This time, the author places us in the countryside Israel of the 60s, in a village, settlement type which they call kibbutz. In here, life is a bit different than urban areas, but the novelty of the twentieth century begins to show up.

The main theme of the novel is coping with life in a closed and small community where life is more or less dull or controlled, and the impact of new wave upon it, together with the need for emancipation.

One main character is Jonathan, a child with an uncertain father, from whom everyone has expectancies: to be a good kid, to be a good worker, to be a good husband and a good father. Jonathan has no desire for the life imposed upon him and starts dreaming of a different life, a mirage of a voyage and a free life. He feels imprisoned and unhappy in the kibbutz.

Rimona, Jonathan’s wife is a semi autistic young lady, with a huge pain of miscarriage. She doesn’t realize much what is happening around her, and still imagines that her child is still alive. She desires a child and to live a silent and happy life within herself.

Azaria Ghitlin is the model of the newcomer, the immigrant, for whom the life in the kibbutz is everything desired: a warm home, a lovely and beautiful wife, and the time to discover life’s joy: chess, gardening, a fruitful job as a mechanic, singing the guitar, studying philosophy. Azaria comes to the kibbutz as a total stranger, but his enthusiasm and ability to attract people eventually brings him in the center of the village.

Iolek, Jonathan’s father is the kibbutz’s secretary and incurably ill with a terminal disease he refuses to treat. He has great hopes upon his son, but his life itself has been without much happiness. He doesn’t have many feelings for his wife, whom he considers to be more his companion than his soul-mate. He forgives her adultery with a stranger that might be Jonathan’s father after all, and takes Jonathan as his son without being sure of it. He loves the image and the kibbutz more than his personal life. And expects that his image will stay after his disappearance.

Life in the kibbutz is dull, so Jonathan decides to leave his wife, which gets him exhausted with her care, her calm, her solitude and her distance from him, and his father, who only desires that he takes over the repairing garage, upon which he has no inclination. He leaves the kibbutz eventually to find new world, and the first thing he wants to reach is Petra, the city of stone, in Jordan. He doesn’t reach this point however, but the travel towards it is an initiation path into life. He meets sexual liberation , space, despair, and eventually figures out he has made many mistakes in his life and blames himself for not being up to the expectancy of his parents, his wife and his community. He returns to his home after a year with a baggage of guilt and experience, which makes him a more complete man.

Azaria comes to the kibbutz exactly from an opposite reason: he immigrated from Russia, where he had a very hard life, full of pain and suffering, and sees the kibbutz as the perfect life. He appreciates Jonathan more than anything, as he considers him his best and only friend, and takes Rimona as his own wife before and after Jonathan leaves the village. Even after his return, they live as a family of three, and after that four after Rimona’s and Azaria’s child is born.

As Jonathan is leaving without a trace, this opens up a full exposure of hidden and dark emotions, that make all the characters look very real and human. Iolek is frightened that his son left to his presumable real father that lives in the USA. His dark fears come again true, about this inability to make his wife happy and the reasons that led to her cheating. Hava, his wife, shows her true feelings and accuses Iolek of killing her and their son, that with his lifestyle and his acceptance of the situation he wasted all her life, and that imposing upon his son all the things that he did, he is killing him as well.

All the characters have a dark emotion that they keep it hidden : we can see Shrulik, the next secretary, a man who never married but was in love for 25 years with a woman he idolized, Jonathan about leaving, Hava about her death, Iolek about this image, Azaria about the respect he wanted.

A real good novel about growing up, about being in a place without belonging, about finding the place where you belong, about what you need, and when it’s worth to try to get it, and which sacrifice can be done in order to obtain it, A perfect peace is a wonderful book, more exactly a great character painting.

Amos Oz amazingly depicted his characters here, in which we can all find something in common, something to think and to introspect about ourselves.

Don’t call it night

I have finished reading Don’t call it night, by Amos Oz.

A little bit dark, in Amos Oz style, the novel presents a side of a relationship that is not very often presented to the public, and hard to catch in words. Two people who spent most of their lifetime without each other, meet in more or less circumstantial time and place, without having many things in common, yet get to live together and try to share their lives. After a while they disconnect at the mental and communication level, and try to understand each other, both succeeding and failing in the same time.

To be more precise, we have a man close to his sixties, Teo, who lived a life full of lust in South America, without any future plans, without coordination or considering aspects of his existence, who lived and lives alone on an intellectual level, and we have Noa, a much younger literature teacher, who keeps her mind and soul busy with petty things, near to the fall into utter boredom, but without any purpose of her future life as well.

They meet and spend together 7 years of their life, but after all this time, they manage to understand each other’s needs, but not enough to complete them for one another. Teo needs intellectual challenges, to be connected with the world, to understand more, but without getting involved. He is somehow the model of the brilliant mind, but a solitary mind, as he needs plenty of space and time alone. Too much connection with someone makes him anxious, and at his affective and intellectual level, he is always alone.

Noa on the other hand, needs to obtain a moral and professional fulfillment, to be able to do something on her own, without help from other people, to have something to be proud of. The thing that happens in the novel and makes things a little different between the two is the death of one of her students, and her desire to get involved into creating a rehabilitation center for drug addicts, as this is the main reason for the death of her student.

The story circles around Noa’s need for fulfillment, and Teo’s desire to watch and observe. As it looks to me, none of them is really engaged in their relationship, and does not see their life as part of a couple. Being both very solitary, it does not help being together. The time they spend with each other is lacking emotion, is lacking communication and affection. Their relationship is very cold, and they are both unhappy in their lives. Noa considers cheating with different other men, but this won’t make her happier. Teo has desires for other women, yet all he considers about women is desire, nothing more, as he doesn’t need fulfillment on any other plane from any woman. He somehow waits and expects for Noa to have a different lover.

They are very different in many aspects: Teo is organized and intellectual, while Noa is completely disorganized and doesn’t plan any future steps. Teo has experience and connections, and can imagine problems and solutions, while Noa is dreaming and idealistic. Teo is pessimistic and puts the worst case before, while Noa is optimistic and most of the times sees the good part. The only thing that bonds them is their need for solitude, and their complete lack of interest for the future of their life.

Teo and Noa stay together until the end of the novel, and live a life poor in feeling, poor in living, and the question we ask ourselves at the end, is it what we all want, or do we want better fulfillment from the person we share our life with ?

The time machine

My latest read is The time machine, by H. G. Wells.

The time machine is an old novel, and it reads like an old novel. Written in 1895, it was long time before any of the modern science discoveries, and long before any of the modern science fiction. I would dare to call it a precursor to many of the last century books, which have a much larger basis for imagination.

H.G. Wells comes up with a new idea, and at his time, it was very difficult to approach. Have to have in mind, that this is the time long before Einstein’s relativity, modern physics, not even Darwin’s evolution theory was fully accepted. Not even a full cartography of the world was completed.

The author doesn’t barge into technical explanations, like how the time machine could be possible, time travel, and such ideas, but abstracts them and presents them as facts, and comes up with an interesting imagination exercise for his time, to imagine how the Earth would look like in year 802,701, which is more than 800,000 years in the future from the present day. He avoids to imagine future technology, but focuses on the evolution of the human beings, or rather, involution. In his inception, humanity evolves into two distinct directions, and splits into two races, which are both much under current humanity (19th century) in all points, including intellect, knowledge, physical power, etc.

One of the races, the Eloi, is made of semi-innocent beings, with low intelligence and physical power, but focused on feelings, joy of living, and lack of worries. The other race, the Morlocks, live underground, and are somehow an evolution of the people near the machinery. We can see the influence of the British industrial revolution, and somehow the author presents the dangers of having people over automated, and the dangers of loosing one’s feelings, communication, joy of life, and other aspects.

The time traveler arrives to this future century and explores it for some time, even making a friend, Weena, whom he rescues from drowning. His relationship with Weena is simple yet affectionate, and he suffers at her death. He manages to return to his own time with an unbelievable story, and one that can change some points of view about the world we currently live in.

The future of the Earth is presented by Wells to segregate between emotions and possible outcomes, to split and show the possibilities of influencing the people into becoming something else than what they are. The whole future is an allegory of these feelings, and how a current human interacts with them. The fear of darkness, unknown, and the joy of light, sun, and positive emotions are what drives the future human beings, and the actual human beings preferences.

Overall a good imagination exercise, for more than a century ago, The time machine is superseded by most of today’s since fiction, however, it is an interesting and historically fun to read, in a purpose to actually see and understand people’s imagination of the future as it was a long time ago.

The Castle in the Pyrenees

My latest read is The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder.

This is another novel by Jostein Gaarder, who never stops to amaze me, by his books full of thought and spirit. The castle in the Pyrenees presents the story of a couple through time, who meet again after 30 years of being separated bluntly, after 5 years of living together inseparable. They both have a new life, family and children, but still share a connection that goes beyond time, and, according to Sulrun, beyond physical realm.

The connection between Steinn, who is now a climatologist, working with weather forecast and analysis, and Sulrun, who is now deeply involved in religious beliefs, is reestablished through the use of e-mail, which is a new way of communication for the two. They meet randomly, but according to Sulrun, not by chance, but with a purpose and a premonition for both of them that they would meet again. The feeling of meeting each other again grows strong until it actually happens.

The discussion between them inevitably gets to the point of their 5 year relationship and the reason behind their separation. Both of them have evolved a lot since their break-up, and it takes some time until they are ready to face the past and think about the present.

Steinn was always the rational, science adept, with a good and clear explanation for everything happening in life. He learned a lot about the Universe, life as it is, and human purpose on Earth. He did not change over the years, and still sharing the same beliefs. The things that happened between them somehow shatter some of his beliefs, and he is willing to change and adapt to something new, that he cannot explain purely by science.

Sulrun on the other hand evolved from a young girl who discovers that life is not eternal, that life will end , to a woman that is absolutely frightened of her end as a human being, of her demise, and this stops her from being happy in her life and enjoying her time as it is. In order to cope with this fear, to find a reason for living and to be able to be happy, she finds shelter in religion, and the belief of afterlife, signs of beyond, and the life of the soul beyond the life of the body.

Their love story is depicted in a strong way, to emphasize on the very strong bond between them, the joy and happiness of youth, discovering and sharing life together, but also the shadow of future separation, end in one way or the other, which is present at all times in Sulrun’s heart.

The bond is severed by a mystical car accident, that leaves both of them shaken to the point they cannot communicate with each other and cannot find each other anymore. They are both young and do not know how to deal with the situation. Steinn is panicked and thinks that their life as it is will end, while Sulrun is affected by the moral and afterlife consequences of their action. When they both have a vision of the victim of the accident, showing herself to them a few days after, they both are in terror and cannot continue their life as it is.

Their beautiful love story is somehow changed forever, but their bond stays, even after 30 years, they can find each other and feel something for each other even at a great distance. Sulrun is convinced that there are certain powers and things beyond our grasp, and tries to tell Steinn, who is very confused in believing something he cannot see. She believes their encounter after 30 years is not random, and that the image of the accident’s victim is a sign from beyond, thus proving in afterlife and that things will not end on this Earth. This is the reasoning behind her comfort as a human being, and the disappearance of the terror of death that she was experiencing.

The author ends the story in a way showing us that the powers beyond might or might not exist, by giving Sulrun a harsh fate, somehow relieving her of her pain and guilt, and giving Steinn the misery of losing the love of his life forever.

Jostein Gaarder has proven to me yet another time that playing with the philosophical themes he usually approaches can create an excellent exercise for the mind, something to think about and something to enjoy for a long time after reading. Approaching life, death, relationship, love, sharing one’s time and fate with someone, and the loss of someone special, all in the same package, makes The Castle in the Pyrenees a great novel, a great read, even if it has a bitter taste like all of Jostein Gaarder’s work, but always leaves the reader with the better part of it.

Mr. Mee

I had another fun read from Andrew Crumey, this time it was Mr. Mee.

Mr. Mee is an exciting novel, presented from different character’s point of view, which are all together connected in some way, even if they spawn multiple centuries.

One thread is the story of an asexual old man, Mr. Mee, who loves science, books, discovering new things, even at a very old age, facing a lot of age health issues. His naivety is exhilarating, as he has no understanding nor knowledge of anything related to feelings, sexual desires, attraction in opposite or same gender, nor anything related to modern technology like computers. He meets a young girl, Catriona, who helps him solve a lot of his issues, including his housekeeping, food, but also helps him with purchasing stuff and fixing his computer. Later, Catriona discovers his asexuality and she is somehow attracted to it, and failing to get him to feel anything by having sexual encounters with him, mostly against his will. Mr. Mee’s character is leaning towards pure fictional, in a known way, but somehow the author manages to turn him into a very funny and interesting character. Catriona abandons him after she realizes that she cannot be understood by him, nor that she can sacrifice more of her integrity for money.

Another thread is represented by Ferrand and Minard, two low life French copists from the 18th century who start imagining a whole fantasy over the death of their neighbor Jacqueline, which Minard fancies. They run from Paris, live from one day to another, to eventually meet Jean-Jacques Rousseau and accuse him of murder. Their characters are a fictional funny model of stupidity that is by paradox believed by every other character. The twist of fate and luck always seem to guarantee their small victories, while they remain unhappy and incomplete in the big picture.

The third thread is presented by an unhappy unfulfilled literature teacher, who falls in love with one of his students, and plans on seducing her during a semester with his intelligence and knowledge of Rousseau and his Confessions book. The character represents the sum of fantasies of a man over a woman that he has nothing to do with, a man of unfulfilled personal life by marriage, procreation and accomplishments. He wants to cheat on his wife and plans a whole dream of Louisa, his student, in his mind, in order to get in bed with her. His fantasies are broken after Louisa figures out his wishes and breaks any contact with her teacher. He is then torn by disease, old age, unaccomplishment, and forgets the important things in his life: his professional achievements and his wife who dedicated herself to their relationship.

All the three threads have a very comic side, but also a very sad part, which somehow is reflected towards the end of the story. Mr. Mee never witnessed physical and emotional approach and attachment, which leaves him somehow incomplete. Ferrand and Minard cannot prove Rousseau’s guilt, and they break apart their life friendship, never to see each other again. And teacher Petrie finds himself in illness agony, with broken fantasies and nothing to be happy about his life.

Teacher Petrie studied Rousseau and a book about Ferrand and Minard. The same book is being read by Louisa on a pornographic live video website and being seen and then met by Mr. Mee. Mr. Mee decides to write to professor Petrie about his discovery and Louisa. The circle somehow ends with the future successor of Minard, who still can tell the story of his grand grand grand father’s adventure and crime investigation over Rousseau and his love, Jacqueline.

Overall a good and fun read, Mr. Mee presents interesting modern themes, with a glimpse of the past and very out of the ordinary characters, unlikely to be seen in the real life, but, a good extreme model of human traits.

Comment je suis devenu stupide

My last read is “Comment je suis devenu stupide” by Martin Page. In English, that is “How I became stupid”.

The novel’s main character, Antoine, is an introvert intellectual who finds very little or no pleasure at all in the “normal” life that most of the people are living. His interests are very uncommon and start from science, foreign old languages and sociological, ethical and ecological problems of the century.

Antoine lived up to 25 years old constantly feeling as an outlier in the world, and except for a few friends who are as strange or even stranger than he is, he couldn’t find anyone he could resonate with, and share his vision of the world.

In order to solve his problems, he decides to change himself to become more like the other people around him. The first step is to try to become alcoholic. The approach is rather bad, as he wants to become alcoholic in a scientific way, by studying alcohol’s effects on the body, and behavior of the other alcoholic people, and not experimenting directly. The alcoholism attempt fails miserably as his body is incapable of processing alcohol in a better way than getting into a coma. Antoine needs to find another way to hide his issues.

Another attempt is to do a suicide, and again, by studying first and watching the behavior of other suicidal people, this fails. Antoine doesn’t see suicidal as a possible solution for his problem. He sees the suicidal people as pathetic in their tries to solve their issues.

After more time of permanent sadness, Antoine sees a doctor friend and wants to be lobotomized in order to be like the rest of the people. This friend refuses to change him forever, but instead gives him some pills that will make him feel more comfortable.

Antoine spends the next time period by being a normal man: buys normal clothes, gets a normal flat, gets a normal job, meets normal people, breaks up with his strange friends, and starts spending money on useless things and getting the majority’s feelings and opinion over happiness. Being normal however has it’s downsides, as a normal life only gets him to pass the time easier and stop focusing on his existence as a genius.

The character is rescued by his friends who want to save him from the colorless life he is living. Antoine resumes his weird life, focusing on all the things he used to love before and miraculously meets a girl in the park whom resembles him in so many ways that makes him capable of sharing his ideas, life, desires, opinions and feelings. Antoine begins to see the joy in his life as it is, and starts to accept himself for the person he is.

The novel represents the bad condition of the intellectual in a normal world, the feeling of non-integration of the special human genius to the world or the many. Antoine thinks that his problem is himself, and he wants to change himself in order to be able to be happy. He tries different extreme things, including changing his brain to become “normal” in the world’s point of view. Antoine doesn’t realize until very late that he doesn’t have any intrinsic problem, but he is just out of the ordinary, or majority, and that he has to try to be happy with what he is , rather than changing himself to be in a different way. Antoine finds someone who is much more resemblant with himself and can share his life with. The morale of the story is to try to be happy with what you are and find joy in everything you do, as you are.

The novel also attacks the “normal” consumerist behavior of the people and the induced desires by different companies via media, to force people to spend and work for something that they do not really need or do not really want, with money they do not own to appear in some way for some people they do not really care about.

Overall, “How I became stupid” is a simple novel, with a simple idea, presented in a funny way, an easy read, with a clear message.

Apricot Jam

My latest read is Apricot Jam: and other stories by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

I have been reading almost anything I could find from Solzhenitsyn as he is one of my favorite authors. At the first glance, Apricot Jam looks to be another glimpse of the marvelous piece of writing about the Russian life depicted by the Russian master. While diving deep into it, things aren’t as strong as in his previous books though. However, the Solzhenitsyn legacy still stands in this book, one if his last though.

Apricot Jam is a collection of short stories , spanning from early 21st century up until the 90s and the fall of the Soviet Union. The stories depict a single character or an event, and sometimes they are made of two parts which are connected in a way, either by passing of time, or by the same character in another period of time, or the same place with different characters. I can feel that the author somehow changed a bit of his attitude since the 1950’s when he wrote his first books. This time the events depicted here, although very similar with ones in the First Circle or the Gulag Archipelago, are somehow easier to accept and easier for the characters to accept and cope with. Even if some events are terrible, the characters somehow get to be at peace with what is happening.

The stories cover motifs like the incarceration in early Stalinist regime and the political police that took place in Russia; the miserable life of woman, where Natasha, a poor girl, is handed from man to man until she can find a glimpse of happiness; or war and front line war, with fights, death, injury, pain, and disease.

I can notice that his style has changed also in the dialogues and character coloring. The reader is left with much more to imagine than before. His exactitude in painting the characters has somehow faded, and the people are drawn in sketches, in strong lines and without depth. This is also most likely because the short story style does not allow much development of the character.

Another thing that leaves me after reading Apricot Jam is another very strong feeling of patriotism from the author, even if he always opposed what was going on with the regime, he always loved his country and felt he was belonging to it.

An easier read than the Gulag Archipelago or other books of his, Apricot Jam isn’t a very deep read, but a window into Solzhenitsyn’s themes and perhaps opening up interest for his other books , for someone who isn’t so familiar about him as I am.

De amor y de sombra

Today I will talk about De amor y de sombra by Isabel Allende.

The novel depicts the ruthless military dictatorship of the Chilean Pinochet, in the second half of the twentieth century South America. The view is presented from the standpoint of two characters, Irene Beltran and Francisco Leal, which fall in love after discovering a big military secret.

Irene is a very open young woman, eager to discover and learn. She works for a magazine, and in her free time takes care of old men at her mother’s sanatorium. She is kind and warm, and somehow innocent to the world she lives in. She has a better social position in the circles she wanders, and she is highly respected by the members of the community. She has a very well-placed fiancee who works in the military, but somehow she is not very attached to him as he always leaves the country for prolonged missions in his work.

Francisco Leal comes for a somehow lower immigrant family, lower from the standpoint of everyone, as they are poor, but his father is a teacher, intellectual, and provides a good education and role model for his children. Francisco has photography as a hobby, and gets to work with Irene by helping her photograph different situations for her magazine’s articles.

The couple discoveres a dark secret by investigating a strange case of schizophrenia in their town, of a poor girl named Evangelina, which strangely goes missing. After a long investigation and finding her missing step brother, they discover her body together with other older bodies by digging up a military sealed cave.

The secret is too much to bear for both of them, and they try to get the attention of the press and other authorities. This only leads to them becoming targets for the political regime, that will attempt to murder Irene, which barely makes it alive. Irene and Francisco fall in love with each other and manage to escape the country.

The novel circles around a simple love between two people put in a strange situation where their life is threatened. How to deal with a dictatorship regime where people are suppressed and how to manage to try to change something, proves to be a very big challenge for both of them. The country is not yet prepared to face the crude reality of the military power that is dictating their lives. This starting rally point, that brings the people together to mourn and sorrow for their lost ones, finding out their true fate, will eventually bring a change to Chile. However Irene and Francisco are not allowed to live in their country anymore. Perhaps in a late future, they might return though.

The novel explores dark motifs, murder, rape, authority, even suggest themes like incest and abnormal sexual desires. It also explores pure love and affection, the need for truth, liberty and expression.

Overall the novel claims to accurately portrait Pinochet’s regime in 1970’s and 1980’s, with great refference for the simple life, the military and higher ranked life, together with the misery, secrecy and offenses that the Chilean people lived in that period.

Dans les plis du kimono

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.