Thursday, November 19, 2009

What is Marie Mutsuki Mockett reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Marie Mutsuki Mockett, author of Picking Bones from Ash, her debut novel.

One book from her entry:
Eight Million Gods and Demons, by Hiroko Sherwin

Quite possibly the most under-rated, and overlooked novel in the English language that I know. The author, Hiroko Sherwin, was born in Japan, but lives in the UK. Though English is her second language, Sherwin managed to write this stunning novel about pre and post-war Japan. That she wrote in English is an accomplishment in and of itself. But beyond that, her use of language, metaphors and emotion, the unfolding of her characters' lives and their fates, her understanding of those who suffer due to war, are simply breathtaking. That Sherwin's novel has not been shortlisted for any of the major prizes speaks to our tendency to overlook books by women--and minority women in particular--as "quiet," in favor of men. In recent years, it has become common for western writers to try to emulate Japanese writers. I call this kind of book "Beautiful Japan" writing; like a collection of travel pictures, these novels are pretty on the surface, and convince travelers who don't really know or understand the psychology of the culture they are visiting that they might in fact have some insight to what is worthwhile about the place. The most recent example I can think of is Jonathan Bernard Schwartz's The Commoner, which purportedly tells the story of the Crown Princess of Japan, complete with wabi sabi descriptions of beautiful burn victims, and our heroine escaping to freedom in the West. Because, of course, America is the answer to all immigrants everywhere (just as it was for Arthur Golden's grey-eyed geisha). Woe betide the Asian woman who chooses to stay in her homeland! But Sherwin's book is that rare thing; a gorgeous novel about people grappling with intense emotions at a time of war, of social change, of family obligations, of love and of broken hearts. It's absolutely devastating, and...[read on]
Marie Mutsuki Mockett graduated from Columbia University with a degree in East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Past honors for her work include a Pushcart nomination, semi-finalist for the James Jones First Novel contest, finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Short Story Competition, and a Rona Jaffe Award nomination. Her essay, "Letter from a Japanese Crematorium," originally published in Agni 65, was cited as notable in the 2008 Best American Essays.

Among the early praise for Picking Bones from Ash:
"A book of intelligence and heart. As Mockett reveals, the ghosts of our mothers are always within us."
—Amy Tan
"Picking Bones from Ash takes the reader down a rabbit-hole as matter-of-factly supernatural as that of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This wiry and delicate novel, as grounded as it is surreal, goes down like a tall glass of water. Except it’s spiked: like Rumi, the younger of Mockett’s two heroines, you will be haunted until you finish this book."
—Ellis Avery

"I don't know when I last read a novel with two such captivating heroines as Marie Mutsuki Mockett conjures up in her intricate and absorbing novel Picking Bones From Ash. Like Satomi and Rumi, Mockett is 'fiercely, inarguably and masterfully talented.' An immensely satisfying debut."
—Margot Livesey
Visit Marie Mutsuki Mockett's website and blog.

Writers Read: Marie Mutsuki Mockett.

--Marshal Zeringue