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The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey
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The Nightingale

by Kara Dalkey

Other authors: Terri Windling (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Fairy Tale Series

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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
I wasn't expecting to like this one as much as I did because I've never felt very connected to Japanese history and culture. I ended up understanding the culture much better, understanding Japanese poetry better, and really appreciating and enjoying it. The story was also wonderfully done, and I'm glad I got my hands on it. ( )
  the1butterfly | Nov 8, 2013 |
As others have said, its a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story The Nightingale set at the court of Heian period Japan. It draws pretty directly from The Tale of Genji, with many of the same devices; a group of ladies in waiting who comment on and gossip about the actions of the main characters, a girl of moderate birth who rises above her class but feels insecure and afraid, characters who communicate obliquely rather than directly by exchanging poems, or dressing in a particular color, slipping a glance while participating in formal court occasions, all that.

This tale adds in spirits and gods and goddesses, possessed people and animals, a plot by a vengeful ghost. It very definitely moves quite a bit faster than Genji. But it still owes a lot to its literary forbear and some people may find the formal, ritualised Heian style interaction to be a little slow and frustrating. I didn't, I liked it. Very fun. ( )
1 vote bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
A book in The Fairy Tale Series that retells the story of The Nightingale, which is one of my favorite fairy tales and so I was rather excited to read this book. Also, it was out of print and took a bit of hunting to find it, which added to my anticipation. I was curious to see the transformation of the nightingale from bird into woman, and I had heard that the author transposed the tale from China to Japan, which only increased my curiosity. I have a fascination for Japanese culture.

This retelling is lovingly told, with a slow pace that accumulates character and plot details gradually, and an attention to historical detail and accuracy that is poetic and functional. Dalkey fleshes out the world of Heian era Japan to such a degree that I really felt I had stepped back in time and place whenever I opened the book. In keeping with that era, she focuses much of her writer's attention to the cultural details that were so important to the people of Japan back then, such as poetry, ceremonies, religious rites, and dress. The characters regularly converse in poem, and a haiku from famous masters of the Heian period begin every new chapter. The aesthetic ideals of this culture are reinforced in her own writing, and it is beautifully done.

The story centers on Uguisu, a young woman who is having romantic difficulties. She is in love with Niwa no Takenoko, but her father wants her to marry Hidoi Fujiwara, a relative of the clan that has the most political clout with the Emperor, the family that in actuality runs Japan with the Emperor just as a figure head. Supernatural elements in the story are established at the start, as Uguisu is performing a ritual which allows her to contact her ancestor, her grandmother, and consult her in this matter of the heart which has almost driven her to suicide. The ghost of her grandmother assures her that she will not be forced to marry Hidoi, as long as Uguisu follows her directions: she must take the flute that her grandmother has made for her, and practice every day by the banks of the Kamo River.

Uguisu follows her grandmother's advice, and true enough, she does not marry Hidoi, but she does not get to marry Niwa, either. Instead, her beautiful playing finds the attention of the Emperor, and she is brought to court to play before her imperial ruler. When her music makes him cry, her position in court is set - she is elevated to a higher rank, assigned maidens to wait on her, and becomes a permanent resident at the palace. It is only after the Emperor has fallen in love with her and made her his Empress that she learns the true nature of her ancestress's help. Her grandmother has placed Uguisu in the palace so that she may finally be avenged on the Fujiwara family, by having her son's spirit (Uguisu's uncle) possess Uguisu's son. When the boy is emperor, the dead son will actually be the emperor, and have the power to extract the blood of the people that banished his family long ago.

This plot is layered with other political intrigue in court, various side characters and their loves and lives, and more supernatural interferences. The climax is cleverly crafted from many of these plot threads, and adds a dramatic conclusion to the story that is satisfying and feels natural to the narrative. This was not a plot-driven story, but a slower read, where I settled into the surroundings and came to know and care for the characters. I appreciate the craft that was involved in not only recreating a historical time period, but matching the aesthetics of that time to the aesthetics of the novel. Overall this is a very good fairy tale retelling that truly re-imagines the original tale and makes the new novel a unique and beautiful story. ( )
1 vote nmhale | Nov 2, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kara Dalkeyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Windling, TerriEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Canty, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Villa, ArnoldDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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