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The Printmaker's Daughter: A Novel by…
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The Printmaker's Daughter: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Katherine Govier

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659183,505 (3.11)3
Member:richardderus
Title:The Printmaker's Daughter: A Novel
Authors:Katherine Govier
Info:Harper Perennial (2011), Edition: Original, Paperback, 512 pages
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The Printmaker's Daughter: A Novel by Katherine Govier

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Drawn in by the pretty cover and the lure of Japan, I had little idea what to expect of this novel. Although the title suggests that the tale would be all about the relationship of a father and daughter, I did not really suspect that would be almost the entirety of what it was about. There is little romance. Mostly, this is a story of art and the family ties between these two.

Actually, given the romance there was, I am glad there was not more. The men Oei took up with were rather creepy, especially the first, a man of her father's years (and he was not young when she was born) seduced her when she was only fifteen. Not strange for that time period, but that does not make it any more okay to me now.

The sections that really came alive were those about the making of the art. The loving discussion of the colors and the lines were touching, even for one, like me, who does not have an artistic bone in her body when it comes to painting, drawing, etc. Oei is a very strong woman, although not when confronted with her father, and she has more skill than most artists, even perhaps her lauded father.

In library school, we discussed at one point the legitimacy of someone from outside a culture trying to write a book about that culture. I don't really know how I feel about that, but I think Govier has likely done a fantastic job. Her mass of research is evident from her Afterword, which goes into detail on why she wrote the novel and the historical basis for her suppositions.

I never really got swept away by this. Despite Oei's strength, I had trouble relating to her and her decisions. There are certainly good things here, but this was not a perfect choice for me. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
This is less a review, even a short one, than an exercise to vanquish the guilt I have for not being able to finish this novel. I rarely, rarely give in and DNF a historical novel: my curiousity to see how things work out and my high threshold for frippery description usually overpowers my good sense. By all means, I wanted to love and should have loved this journey into 1800s Edo Japan, but this was most definitely not the novel I thought I was getting. Some readers will be enchanted by Govier's visually striking version of the isolationist country, but I wasn't diverted or engrossed by Oei and the Old Man's journey through the years of her life. I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen in those hard-fought 300 pages of reading but.... nothing of note did and I had to throw in the towel.

My first major complaint about The Printmaker's Daughter and one that persisted for most of the pages I managed to conclude: the accent/speech patterns used for the courteans of the Corner Tamaya. A confusing overuse of the letter 'z' for pluralization or to show ownership was the first problem I caught on to ("She'z so, like, stiff. She'z like a lady!") but it was sadly also far from the last. Why do these 1800's whores speak like 1990's California valleygirls? Phrases and words like "pulleeez" "chi-yuld" and "it'z so noi-zy!" is not how women of the time expressed themselves so it's a jarring speech pattern for the author to have them use - and somewhat condescending as well. Why does the word "like" pop up every three words in the conversation of the courtesans? Given that young Oei spends quite a chunk of the beginning of the novel among the bordellos with her father, it's a reoccuring and distracting issue.

Oei herself isn't too bad of a protagonist, though she's not fully fleshed out by the time I closed the cover for the final time. I actually really enjoyed reading about the complicated but loving relationship between Oei and her famous father; she clearly values his opinion and work more than her own life. Even the title of the novel reinforces how clearly Oei defines herself by the terms of her father. Govier seems to have largely based her Hokusai on the real man, easily enfolding actual facts about the main into the narrative easily and often. I liked the characters, but I didn't closely identif with any, root for any or hate any. They were just mostly there...doing nothing for 300 pages. The ultra-weird narrative shifts, from two hundred fifty pages of first-person perspective to a third-person view and back again to first is just clunky and weird. A more streamlined transition between views would help the whiplash of flipping back and forth so much.

This was just not for me, though I can easily see others overlooking what I could not and enjoying this far more/ actually completing the entire 500-page length. I just don't want to muscle through a novel only to write a tepid review after - by no means is this even close to the worst I have read this year. I just lacked the desire to pursue another 200 pages of anachronistic accents and weird POV shifts with nothing happening in between to break up the monotony. ( )
  msjessie | Feb 5, 2013 |
http://iwriteinbooks.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-printmakers-daughter-katherine...

The prints of famed Japanese artist Hokusai are well ingrained in my idea of what constitues amazing international art through time. You all know it and if you’re at all like me you love it. I took a kick-butt series of Asian Art History classes in college and have just plain always liked this style of nature depiction. So, of course, I had to set aside my silly prejudices about spot-specific tales of history when I realized that this one was about the possibly true, possibly very scandalous story of Hokusai and his daughter through the 19th century.

I was very well rewarded, as it turns out, as the story is just so readable and fantastic. The book circles around the artist and the protagonist, the father and daughter, with such realism that it honest to goodness, feels like reading about old friends. The most fascinating part of the story is that it is woven through the red light district, the artists’ hang out, the call girls’ home, the place where art, culture, passion and forbidden pleasures live. Poets and prostitutes live together in celebration of all things fun and this is where our story’s roots take hold.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who loves a good story with good, evil, censorship and rebellion. On a more personal scale, when all the hustle and bustle of the city and the lights are stripped away, what remains is a story about family, about friendship and about one father and his daughter. It came in just under the wire with three weeks left in the game, to be called one of my favorite books of 2011. I haven’t read anything else by Govier but I am now off to hunt her other works down.

Check out the links, below for a few other thoughts on the book. ( )
  mistycliff | Jun 20, 2012 |
Oei is a painter in her father's studio, his oldest and most faithful disciple. Her father, Hokusai, is a famed artist throughout Edo, and his influence is reaching other parts of Japan as well. Despite the shogun's censorship of art and free speech, Hokusai's work only grows in popularity, and he even sells his art to the Dutch traders who are allowed limited engagement with Japan.

From the day she was born, her mother--Hokusai's second wife--gave Oei up to her father, and the two became a pair. As Oei grows older, she becomes more and more like her father, and as the old man's fame increases, he depends upon her steady hand and eye for vibrant color--though he rarely acknowledges their symbiotic relationship. The charismatic Hokusai claims Oei's talent as his own even as it begins to take on its own life and outshine the old man's famous style, and Oei submits to him out of duty.

Hokusai is eccentric, to say the least. After his second wife dies and he is gripped by palsy, Hokusai depends upon Oei to support him. "Suddenly he was all I had, and I was all he had," she says. Her support of him is physical, emotional, and artistic, and it leaves Oei no time to branch out on her own. Such independence would be a betrayal. Hokusai's life improbably stretches twice the length of the average Japanese man of his times, but after the old man's eventual death, Oei is offered a chance to claim her many works under Hokusai's name. Will she leap at the chance for greatness, or will she continue on as a ghost brush?

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the unstoppable influx of foreigners into a closed Japan. As Oei ages and becomes more and more independent, the world seems to be opening up to her. "My old life and its people were becoming relics," she comments. "A new world was advancing on us."

The author explains in the afterword that she first became interested on Oei--"the ghost brush"--after seeing an exhibition of Hokusai's many works in D.C.'s Freer Gallery of Art. Comparing his works side by side, it becomes apparent, she writes, that the painter known as Hokusai could not have done this alone. Especially not the final painting, said to have been completed in his eighty-ninth year, with fine details and a total departure from the old man's style.

She writes, "I knew then that no matter how difficult it would be for an amateur and a non-speaker of Japanese to crack this world, I would write the story." Employing short, staccato sentences for much of the book, Govier explores what Oei's life might have been like. Govier appears to have done her research into the fascinating theory that there were two artists painting under the seal and signature of Hokusai.

But a theory a story does not make. I need conflict, I need shape, I need to feel that this is story and it is going somewhere. Instead, we see a woman's life stretch and meander over six decades as she grapples with her and her father's identities as artists. That's a cool idea, but where is the rising action, the climax?

Anything would have spiced up the narrative. Without conflict, without that certain sense of something about to happen, there can be no true tension. Any tension feels fabricated, false, unsupported. The only tension I could find was Oei's struggle to find herself and to be true to that self. That's a nice theme, but you can't tell a story about themes.

The best part about the book is the end. That sounds cheeky, but it's true. At the end, Oei's life as a painter and, therefore, a kind of historian/storyteller culminates in the ultimate ghost story: the story of the ghost painter, the woman who was hidden from history but whose art lives on. A great idea, but one that could have been refined and shaped into a more compact and powerful story.

For a full review, visit my book review blog, Melody & Words: http://melodyandwords.com/2011/11/22/the-printmakers-daughter-by-katherine-govie... ( )
  melodyaw | Dec 27, 2011 |
I couldn't be more unfamiliar with 19th century Japan, but from the first page, Govier plunks the reader in the rich, seedy, struggling world of Edo, where the common people are forbidden to own pictures, maps, or books, and artists make catalogs of courtesans and paint Westerners in secret. Our narrator is Oei; her father is Katsushika Hokusai, creator of the iconic print 'The Great Wave at Kanagawa'. A complicated, tempestuous figure, Hokusai was a prolific artist as well, living well into his 90s. He's renown for his output, his focus on the commoners, and his myriad of artistic styles.

But the novel isn't about Hokusai, not exactly; the story is about Oei, her relationship with her father, her artistic talents, and her loyalty. It's also a novel about Edo in the early 1800s -- talk about place as character! -- and the connection between inspiration, loyalty, and love. Govier's central thesis is that Oei was the 'ghost brush', completing many of the works her father got credit for, and her novel follows Oei's life from childhood to adulthood.

I found the writing a little uneven and book a smidge too long (at 494 pages, it includes a 24-page Afterward that is marvelous -- probably my favorite part of the whole book -- but some of the sections went on and on...). Grovier's writing overall is nice: easy, flowing, descriptive but not ornate, chock full of detail without feeling like a lecture.  As sex workers are a major part of the story, I found her portrayal of them and their work very human and realistic, earthy without being salacious.  Even better, I thought she conveyed accurately the mores of a society that accepted paid courtesans and created characters that seemed authentic, real, and people to whom I could relate.  

However, I hated the way Govier used accents in the story; I found the rural courtesans nearly incomprehensible, and while that's what she was trying to convey, it really pulled me from the story as I found it super clunky and awkward.

"Your old man'z an artist? We usta have one here watchin' our every move," said Fumi. "We were, like, pozen all the time. He watched how we dressed and when we played our music and when we looked at the moon -- evrythin'. But he duzn come here anymore. Maybe he'z, like, scared he'll get fined or go to jail"--here her face became tragic--"or end up on the White Sands or even, like, banished. Can you 'magine? Jus' for painting us. It'z 'cause we're so evil." (page 51-52)
That quibble aside, this is a chunky historical fiction that stands out for the unusual setting and non-royalty characters. For those who like fiction about the making of art, I highly recommend this -- and for anyone who enjoys the process of crafting a novel, you must check out Govier's marvelous Afterward. It makes me want her to write a book about writing this book! ( )
  unabridgedchick | Dec 8, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"Although not as gifted as Anchee Min in characterizing her female protagonist, Govier nonetheless gives readers an engrossing narrative worth their time."
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Shirley N. Quan (Nov 1, 2011)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062000365, Paperback)

Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colorful world of nineteenth-century Edo, in which courtesans rub shoulders with poets, warriors consort with actors, and the arts flourish in an unprecedented moment of creative upheaval. Oei and Hokusai live among writers, novelists, tattoo artists, and prostitutes, evading the spies of the repressive shogunate as they work on Hokusai’s countless paintings and prints. Wielding her brush, rejecting domesticity in favor of dedication to the arts, Oei defies all expectations of womanhood—all but one. A dutiful daughter to the last, she will obey the will of her eccentric father, the man who created her and who, ultimately, will rob her of her place in history.

Vivid, daring, and unforgettable, The Printmaker’s Daughter shines fresh light on art, loyalty, and the tender and indelible bond between a father and daughter.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:23 -0400)

Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colorful world of nineteenth-century Edo, in which courtesans rub shoulders with poets, warriors consort with actors, and the arts flourish in an unprecedented moment of creative upheaval. Oei and Hokusai live among writers, novelists, tattoo artists, and prostitutes, evading the spies of the repressive shogunate as they work on Hokusai's countless paintings and prints. Wielding her brush, rejecting domesticity in favor of dedication to the arts, Oei defies all expectations of womanhood--all but one. A dutiful daughter to the last, she will obey the will of her eccentric father, the man who created her and who, ultimately, will rob her of her place in history.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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