One Chrysanthemum

by Joan Itoh Burk
373 pages,
ISBN: 1897142161

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First Novels
by Nancy Wigston

One Chrysanthemum by Joan Itoh Burk (Brindle and Glass Publishing, 373 pages, $24.95, paper, ISBN: 1897142161). Joan Itoh Burk's page-turning portrait of Japan in the mid-1960s comprises a series of unfolding mysteries about Japanese life and customs, after a young wife named Misako discovers her husband's affair with a sexy younger woman. She has a vision of them doing the nasty in a love hotel. She now regrets her decision to trade life in her quiet country town for marriage to a handsome Tokyo native and daily life with his irritating mother. Burk shows how limited were the options available to educated Japanese women forty years ago, even in a love match. What's more unusual¨and a great source of potential embarrassment in this still heavily conformist society¨are Misako's visions. She is soon seconded home to help her grandfather, a Buddhist priest in the family temple, who is investigating human remains that have been discovered in a nearby historic park.
Burk keeps things moving along, contrasting the buzz of Tokyo life against the calm and intrigue of the country. As a child, the clairvoyant Misako saw a young girl drop to her death in a river¨a girl who, it turned out, had drowned seventy years before. There is a well-managed cast of characters: a tall Zen priest interested in Misako's gifts and her beauty; her well-meaning but controlling mother; her hysterical, selfish mother-in-law; her playboy husband; her determined grandfather; and Sachiko, the friend from her hometown who shows exactly how far ambition and obsession with all things western can take a poor girl with talent in Tokyo. At one of her star-studded parties, Sachiko says, "We are all actors here, with the possible exception of [Misako]." Burk sidesteps the stereotypical in her unveiling of Japan, plunging us deeper and deeper into her cold case amid haunted landscapes, ancient rituals, and ever-more enticing descriptions of food: a feast for body and soul.

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