on 9 February 2013
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.
Review copy provided by publisher.
on 7 March 2013
I came to this book as an admirer of Natsuo Kirino's novels set in modern Japan - prime among them being the superb 'Out' - rather than as one interested in Japanese creation mythology, about which I have no prior knowledge. Common themes between the different facets of Kirino's work, such as male betrayal and female revenge, might be traced. However, I would recommend 'The Goddess Chronicle' primarily as a gripping narrative, well structured and lucidly told. The dark and powerful stories, enacted against a vividly realised background of island, sea and realm of the dead, resonate in the mind.
on 26 March 2014
In a poor ancient Japanese island culture, Natsuo Kirino shows primitive religious power regimes as a specific example of social structures which are inimical to human life. Finding love, freedom and personhood means escaping their male dominated rules, which only a heroic few seek to do, but this in turn forces cycles of betrayal and bitterness which haunt human life from beyond the grave. It’s a gripping plot. Her female goddess dispenses retributive, vindictive death. There is, according to Kirino’s myth, no redeeming grace, no ultimate light.
on 15 June 2015
In Japanese mythology, Izanaki (The Male Who Invites) and Izanami (The Female Who Invites) were amongst the original gods who were the creators of Japan and its gods. For many centuries myths like these would have been transmitted orally in Japan, until around 712 A. D. when a written version - the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), was compiled for the Japanese imperial court. The tales in the Kojiki tell of the creation of the world, the origin of the gods, and the ancestry of the Japanese emperors, who claimed their authority through direct descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu.
Another early source of the mythology would have been the Nihongi, or Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), completed around 720 A.D.
According to the legends, after their birth Izanaki and Izanami stood on the floating bridge of heaven, stirring the primeval ocean with a jewelled spear, on lifting the spear droplets fell from it into the water forming an island called Onogoro. Izanaki and Izanami descended to the island and became husband & wife. Not long after, Izanami gave birth to their first child who was deformed - the other gods blamed Izanami, because she spoke before her husband at their marriage ceremony. The couple decided to perform another wedding ceremony (perceived correct this time) and Izanami soon gave birth to eight lovely children - these became the islands of Japan.
Izanaki and Izanami then went on to create many more gods and goddesses, representing the mountains, valleys, waterfalls, streams, winds and the many other natural features of Japan. Life seemed good until during the birth of Kagutsuchi (the fire god), Izanami was badly burned, although as she lay dying, she continued creating gods and goddesses, whilst other deities emerged from the tear ducts of the heartbroken Izanaki. When Izanami died, she descended to Yomi (underworld) and her husband decided to go there and bring her back from this land of darkness and death. Izanami greeted Izanaki from the shadows as he approached the entrance to the underworld, warning him not to look upon her - full of desire for his wife, Izanaki lit a torch and looked into Yomi. Horrified by the sight of his wife, now a rotting corpse, Izanaki fled. Izanami, livid that her husband had failed to respect her wishes, sent hideous female spirits, eight thunder gods and an army of fierce warriors after him. Izanaki managed to escape by blocking the entrance between Yomi and the land of the living with a massive boulder. They subsequently broke off their marriage with Izanami now trapped behind this immovable boulder screaming out to Izanaki that if he left her she would kill a thousand of the living every day. He furiously replied he would give life to 1000 in return. Although Izanami has the last bitter laugh by choosing to kill the women her estranged husband impregnates. (Thanks to the Myths Encyclopaedia)
We learn about this from Namima, who with her sister has her life mapped out from birth. Her sister will become their island’s oracle and she will become the island’s priestess of death. This path is so rigidly marked out that there is no chance of her living any form of life she would choose for herself, in fact she is deemed impure – the Yin to her sisters Yang and upon her sister’s death she would be expected to commit suicide to maintain the balance. Yearning to break free from this straightjacket she is coerced to break one taboo & then another, becoming pregnant, leaving her with no choice but to flee with the man who claimed to love her, but will ultimately betray her by killing her and taking her new born daughter for purposes of his own. She wakes to find herself now trapped in Yomi, with a goddess who has had untold centuries to hone her vengeance. Namima, cannot come to terms with her new existence, and learns the tale of the goddess - seeing how it correlates with her and her own life was. She is also burning up with the desire to address the wrongs done to her, and needs to understand what has happened to her daughter.
The Goddess Chronicle is a retelling of the myth of Izanaki and Izanami by Natsuo Kirino and like her other books, this is more than just a simple tale of love gone foul. Anyone having read Out, Grotesque & Real world, will recognise the familiar themes of the deification of women, combined with their subjugation and estrangement from all that is worthwhile within Japanese society. Of women reaching beyond some role/image forced upon them, attempting to seek meaning, control over their existence, whilst they struggle against rigid societal conventions - leaving them with no option but to break the taboos, family ties and conventions laid down by a world that doesn't recognise them as individuals, and to ultimately pay the price. Because as with her other books there is always a tab to be paid. The Goddess Chronicle, is also like her other books in that it is a book that appears to turn its own pages, that sets a pace and just rolls along building up steam or in this case anger, because as John Lydon said “Anger is an energy” and in this book it burns off the page and through the retina - searing its cautionary tale into your neurons.