Le masque de Nô

Le masque de Nô
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, Book # 1
Gallimard Jeunesse
August 27th 2020
Paperback
416
French
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June 23, 2021 July 11, 2021

The chronicles of maple and cherry tree form a tetralogy set in seventeenth-century Japan. We follow two heroes, Ichirō, a young samurai with a fabulous destiny, and the mysterious Hiinahime, a stranger who hides behind a Nō mask. In the first two volumes the narrator is Ichirō, in the other two it will be the heroine Hiinahime's turn to tell the story. The first volume, entitled The Nō Mask, traces Ichirō's life from childhood to adolescence. Abandoned, Ichirō is raised as a son by an unknown samurai who teaches him the way of the sword. The boy will live a solitary existence in the mountains, in the heart of a wild nature and at the rhythm of the seasons, between moments of bliss and lightheartedness and an apprenticeship that requires perseverance and courage. But one tragic night, Ichirō's life is turned upside down by the attack of shady samurai. Destiny will then take him to Edo (ancient Tokyo), where he will begin performing in kabuki theaters; there he will make his first friendships and meet Hiinahime, the unknown woman with the Nō mask.

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About the book

First book in the series set in Edo period Japan (17th century) entitled Les chroniques de l’érable et du cerisier which, from the Italan translation (sorry don’t know any French) should be The Chronicles of Maple and Cherry tree, a very intriguing title. We are in the period in which the Tokugawa family holds the maximum political and military power in Japan, a period of isolation and persecution of Christians.

The book begins with a Master, a former samurai, who finds a child in a biwa shell in the forest near his isolated mountain home. He takes him home and together with the housekeeper he raises him as if he were his son. The latter, Ichirō, is raised with samurai teachings, of which the Master is an expert, until the Master’s past comes knocking on the door of the isolated house and Ichirō is catapulted into ancient Edo (current Tokyo) where, to survive, he has to beg and live on the streets, until he meets a poet who will help him find work. He also discovers the Kabuki theater and thanks to this, he makes his first friends. In Edo he also meets Hiinahime, a girl who hides behind a mask of the Nō theater.

What I think

I liked the book very much, above all for the setting, Japan, and the story told, unfortunately the Italian edition of the book, in spite of being beautiful to the eye, is very bad for the reading (but since this doesn’t concern the original edition I won’t touch on that, but really, the Italian really sucks).

However, it is the first book by a French author set in Japan that I read and thanks to the documentary on Netflix I have not struggled to understand the historical characters it talks about. I recommend the book to anyone who likes Japan and its culture, because I think that a “normal” reader (even if I don’t like to use this word) can be a bit boring and slow. For me it wasn’t (it took me a long time to read the book because I didn’t have time, not because I couldn’t go on), but I can understand that a reader who is not interested in Japanese culture and history may not appreciate the book.

Style

The style is not complicated, I haven’t read it in the original language so I don’t know if the language is difficult, in Italian it wasn’t, but as I said the translation really sucks.

Characters

The main characters are two even if we find one after the middle of the book.

Ichirō is the protagonist, the point of view is his and he is the narrator. He is first a child, then a boy who does not know his family, he only has a gold pendant in the shape of a maple leaf that binds him to his family, but what it means is a mystery. With him we see the condition of the poorest Japanese population and what the continuing conflicts between the daimyō have brought.

Hiinahime looks like a noble, she lives in a house of importance, but she hides her face behind a mask for some reason and she hardly ever talks about it. She is related to Tokugawa, the shougun who brought Japan together (here we get too much into the story that I like, but perhaps not relevant to the review). Ichirō has made a promise to himself, to take revenge on the Tokugawa clan, but despite this, he finds Hiinahime intriguing and cannot help but befriend her.

Conclusion

Now, concluding. I liked the book, I recommend it to those who love Japanese culture and if you read the Italian translation to those who want to get a headache to understand what is written. Apart from the edition that needs a great editing, the story deserves to be read and I can’t wait to discover Ichirō’s other adventures and if his Kabuki companions will also be in the next book, but above all his best friend.

By the way, see you in two weeks.

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