Length: 171 pages
Publisher: Tantor Media
Source: TLC Book Tours
Synopsis: What if you could rewrite a tragedy? What if you could give grace to someone s greatest mistake? 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.
What I thought:
As you may know, I have a strong interest in Asian cultures and Japanese culture in particular. Fog Island Mountains is rooted in the tradition of Japanese folktales known as kitsune. While I wasn’t familiar with this type of story before reading the book, I did my research to try to better understand what Bailat-Jones was going for with this modern re-interpretation. Basically, a kitsune is a fox, and these folktales center on a fox character which has magical abilities and can assume a human form. They can be either good or bad, but their most common characteristic is their wisdom.
For me, knowing something about kitsune gave this book a depth and resonance that it might not have had otherwise. When I started the book I was a bit confused by the style of narration, as it’s told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who often refers to herself in the plural. The identity of the narrator became clearer as the book progressed, but she remains a somewhat mysterious character and represents the book’s link to the kitsune tradition.
The central characters, Alec and his wife Kanae, are dealing with a personal crisis at the same time as a strong typhoon is brewing over their island. The outer turmoil of the weather reflects the inner turmoil of the characters, a tried but true technique for establishing an atmospheric setting. (Get it? Weather? Atmospheric? Okay, moving on.) There are several minor characters who also play a part in the story and whose presence impact Alec and Kanae as they try to come to terms with their situation.
The mountains and the natural elements surrounding them also feature strongly in the book, representing the characters’ shifts between escape and surrender. This in conjunction with the author’s lyrical writing and the unique narrative style creates a reading experience that feels like a retreat into a separate, self-contained world–my favorite kind of reading.
All in all, I really enjoyed Fog Island Mountains and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction with a focus on Japanese culture. It’s a short book that could easily be read in one or two sittings to maximize the reader’s immersive experience.
Michelle Bailat-Jones is a writer and translator. Her début novel Fog Island Mountains (Tantor 2014) won the 2013 Christopher Doheny Award from the Center for Fiction and Audible. She has also translated Charles Ferdinand Ramuz’s 1927 Swiss classic Beauty on Earth (Onesuch Press, 2013). She is the Reviews Editor at the web journal Necessary Fiction, and her fiction, poetry, translations, and criticism have appeared in a number of journals, including The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Quarterly Conversation, PANK, Spolia Mag, Two Serious Ladies, and The Atticus Review. She lives in Switzerland.
I’m giving away one copy of Fog Island Mountains to a lucky reader (U.S. or Canada only, sorry). To enter, just leave a comment with your name and email address. Good luck!
Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.