Oei is the daughter of a famous Japanese painter Hokusai, living in 19th centry Edo, Japan. Despite being from a large family, Hokusai picks Oei as his apprentice and she is obviously his favourite child. The two paint and travel together, coming up with new ideas for paintings. When the North Star school is opened, they start taking students to ghost brush under similar names as Hokusai. As Oei grows older, her paintings become more beautiful. Some think that she could surpass her father, yet she is too loyal to her father to take the steps to make that happen.
The art and the culture of Japan are an important part of the book but the relationships are equally important. Oei falls in love with those she can't have or can't hold on to for long. She has relationships with a prostitute, other artists, actors, novelists, but most important is her father. She endures his abuse and love, helps him with his money and commissions, goes in his place to talk to foreigners, and takes care of him while his health declines. Can Oei move past her relationship with her father to live with one brush or will her work forever be known as Hokusai's work?
I find that most books that are based in Japan have a certain grace to them, that this book also possesses. The story doesn't move quickly but it is elegantly told and even though the characters are different from a normal fiction book, you can't help but pull for Oei and hope that she's given the recognition she deserves.
I loved the way the paintings were described. I could imagine the vivid colours that Oei prided herself in and could picture what those paintings looked like. It's obvious that a lot of research was put into this book and that Govier has seen thousands of Japenese paintings to be able to describe them as she did.
This book will be one I still remember by the end of the year.
First Line: "Hey, You!"