Wednesday, 18 February 2009
The Last Concubine by Lesley Downer
Corgi Books €10.79
THE BEST, the most magical stories are the ones that go back to the myths - like The Last Concubine.
Japan in the 19th century, still a feudal society. Sweet-natured Sachi, a foundling taken in by a kindly peasant family, looks utterly unlike the people of her village - she has an aristocratic pallor and brilliant green eyes.
Spotted by the starmakers of the imperial court, Sachi is chose to become the royal concubine, the shogun’s deputy wife.
But the shogun, a dreamy boy manipulated by courtiers, goes to war against the southerners who want to restore the emperor.
Japan rises, and seething crowds chant “Ee ja nai ka?” - “Who gives a damn?”
It gradually becomes apparent that Sachi herself is not who or what she seems.
This is chicklit as thriller, with a story that opens out like a series of puzzle boxes.
Engrossing, beautifully written and a little weird, it’s a compelling story. There is even - for Irish people - a curiosity: a legend of a hero who is lured away to dance and play for three years, then returns to find he’s been gone for 300 years.
Stranger still, his name, Urashima, sounds very like Oisín when you pronounce it the Japanese way.