This tale may be spun from my words but I speak for the goddess, the one who governs the Realm of the Dead. My words may be dyed red with anger; they may tremble in yearning after the living; but they are all, each and every one, spoken to express the sentiments of the goddess.
Namima was barely sixteen when she died. From her birth she was destined to be yin to her sister’s yang. Her sister was to become the Oracle, priestess of the Realm of Light and Namima’s fate was to be the priestess of the Realm of the Dead. Bound to her duties without understanding them, Namima meets a boy, knocking their fates off-course.
The Goddess Chronicle is the latest in The Myths series, retelling the story of Izanami and Izanagi interwoven with the old customs of one of Japan’s most remote islands. The myth comes from the Kojiki or “Book of Ancient Matters”, which dates back to the 8th century and tells the story of the kami or gods. It’s interesting to see the overlap between myths of different cultures. There are elements recognisable in the Greek stories of the underworld. Like Orpheus, Izanagi goes against advice not to look. When it comes to matters of the underworld, when you’re told not to look, don’t look!
Their story combines a creation myth, in which they create the islands that would later become modern Japan, and the resulting tragedy which drives Izanami and Izanagi apart. He vows to populate the earth above and she takes revenge, killing one thousand people each and every day. I love learning about new mythologies, previously knowing very little about that of Japan. The story still keeps the feeling of a myth, almost fable like in its telling and a sense of timelessness. This does mean you shouldn’t expect overly complex characters, but ones that represent ideas.
The writing style also suits Namima’s naivety. When she must take the food to her sister, she does not see it as an offering; no one explains anything to her. To throw away the uneaten food seems wasteful, especially as others of the island are starving. Her sheltered life means she doesn’t manage to put two and two together later on in the story.
The novel has three distinct parts. Firstly Namima’s short life and her journey into the Realm of the Dead. Did you know there’s even a word to describe these stories where the character ventures into the underworld, usually for some task? Katabasis. Secondly is the introduction of Izanami and the retelling of her myth and her current circumstances. Then the final section weaves together their two tales. It is a tale of birth and death, love and revenge.
The Goddess Chronicle was originally written in Japanese by Natsuo Kirino and has been translated into English by Rebecca Copeland. Published by Canongate, this translation is currently available in hardback. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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