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Fog Island Mountains by Michelle…

Fog Island Mountains

by Michelle Bailat-Jones

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Weather can have a big impact on people and their emotions. Sunny days make it easier to be happy. Grey, overcast days inspire lethargy and can feed depression. So the rising of a storm coupled with a terrible diagnosis would easily symbolize a growing grief and could certainly inspire denial and avoidance, a desire to run and hide from the coming trauma as do the characters in Michelle Bailat-Jones' lyrical short novel.

Alec Chester has lived in Japan for forty years, teaching English. As a South African in a small Japanese town, he is used to being the outsider, remaining one always, despite the fact that his wife, Kanae, is Japanese and their children are half Japanese. As the town, in the shadow of the Fog Island Mountains, braces for a coming typhoon, Alec is given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. His wife, suspecting the grim prognosis, doesn't meet Alec at the hospital for the diagnosis. Nor does she visit after his exploratory surgery. In fact, she is running and hiding from the truth of his condition, angry that despite his promise never to leave her that he will in fact die and do just that, and so she commits an act that she will want to undo almost from the moment of commission. When Alec leaves the hospital and goes missing, Kanae must acknowledge her feelings in the face of his disappearance and choose to either accept or reject the fear that he might have gone away to commit suicide. Opting to reject that possibility, now she too must head fearlessly into the teeth of the coming storm.

Narrated by an old and wise storyteller named Azami, who finds and heals wild animals, the novel is pitched in the stages of the impending storm, emotions echoing the violence and the fury, as well as the calm, of the coming weather. Azami has insights into the entire community although her focus is the emotional chaos of the Chester family, from Alec and Kanae, accepting the diagnosis in different ways, to oldest daughter Megumi, who refuses to tell anyone who the father of her young son is, to fragile, scared daughter Naomi, to son Ken'ichi, fact driven and soon to be a father himself. Alec is adrift in his own body, the rising storm outside mirroring the rising storm inside him. And rather than battening down the hatches, he and Kanae take separate emotional flights away from each other and what is to come before racing back towards the safe harbor of their shared past.

Bailat-Jones' writing is spare, gorgeous, and dreamy and the novel is stunning in its emotional impact. She has taken the natural world, in the symbol of the gathering typhoon and woven it throughout the narrative to great effect. And she has used the traditional Japanese mythological spirit of the kitsune, in the person of Azami, carefully and deliberately to tell this story as it must be told. The characters are fully rounded in their fears and the way they acknowledge or suppress their emotions. The story is both tragic and a triumph, all at once contemplative, brutal, and tender. There is a slow building tension to the narrative as the storm grows ever closer and as with an outsized storm, the aftermath for everyone is forever changed, washed clean, and immortalized in the remarkable tale so recently told. An elegant, graceful tale of grief, sorrow, and leaving, this is beautifully rendered and will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. ( )
  whitreidtan | Nov 6, 2014 |
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Huddled beneath the volcanoes of the Kirishima mountain range in southern Japan, also called the Fog Island Mountains, the inhabitants of small town Komachi are waiting for the biggest of the summer's typhoons. South African expatriate Alec Chester has lived in Komachi for nearly forty years. Alec considers himself an ordinary man, with common troubles and mundane achievements until his doctor gives him a terminal cancer diagnosis and his wife, Kanae, disappears into the gathering storm. Kanae flees from the terrifying reality of Alec's diagnosis, even going so far as to tell a childhood friend that she is already a widow. Her willful avoidance of the truth leads her to commit a grave infidelity, and only when Alec is suspected of checking himself out of the hospital to commit a quiet suicide does Kanae come home to face what it will mean to lose her husband. Narrating this story is Azami, one of Komachi's oldest and most peculiar inhabitants, the daughter of a famous storyteller with a mysterious story of her own. A haunting and beautiful reinterpretation of the Japanese kitsune folktale tradition, Fog Island Mountains is a novel about the dangers of action taken in grief and of a belief in healing through storytelling.… (more)

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