Monday, April 6, 2015

Sisters of Heart and Snow

Title:  Sisters of Heart and Snow
Author:  Margaret Dilloway
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2015. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0399170804 / 978-0399170805

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "Tomoe held the round bronze mirror with steady hands, fighting her nervous pulse."

Favorite Quote:  "We all need someone with whom we can be our most core selves. Unhidden and honest. When you hide parts of yourself from other people, they can't fully know and love you, nor you them. You construct a false version of yourself. Then your true self remains unknown. Isolated. You become a stranger."

Present day San Diego - recognizable and familiar. Twelfth century Japan - the world of the samurai. What, might you ask, do these times and places have in common? Nothing at all in so many ways. Yet, human nature and people are the same, with our need for love, understanding, and acceptance. The complexity of human relationships is what this book explores in this unique twist on a story about sisters.

Rachel is middle aged, with a loving husband and two children. She holds the power of attorney for her mother, Hiraki, who suffers from dementia and is in a nursing home. Rachel has been estranged from her father, Killian, since he threw her out of the house when she was sixteen. The two are locked in battle over control of her mother's care. Due to the circumstances, Rachel is also estranged from Drew, her younger sister.

In a lucid moment, Hiraki asks Rachel to get a book from her sewing room at Killian's home. Rachel calls on Drew to help. The book turns out to be the story of the legendary onna bugeisha or female samurai, Tomoe Gozen. For Rachel and Drew, the story of Tomoe and her "sister of heart" Yamabuki becomes a fable showing them the way back to each other and the strength to move forward in their lives. Tomoe Gozen and Yamabuki's story is a book within this book about Rachel and Drew.

Neither narrative delves into the "why" behind what many characters do. Why is Killian so cruel? Why did Hiraki spend her whole life catering to Killian but find the strength to go against his wishes and reconnect with her daughter? Why is Yamabuki, a wife, so accepting of Tomoe Gozen, who is the concubine of her husband? Why was Tomoe Gozen's father so willing to train her in the skills of the samurai? Why does Tomoe Gozen, so strong in so many ways, continue to follow a man who she knows is heading down a path of destruction?

These answers are not forthcoming in the book. More than the individual characters, this book becomes about the relationships. It is the relationships not the individual characters that give this book its depth. The common focal point becomes love. Hiraki's love for her daughters pierces her dementia for one lucid moment to bring the courage of Tomoe Gozen to Rachel and Drew.  Rachel's love for her daughter Quincy helps steer her through difficult choices. Although rivals, Tomoe Gozen and Yamabuki find a sisterly love that helps them survive a desolate life and immeasurable losses. Although estranged for years, Rachel and Drew rediscover their need and their love for each other. "Perhaps that was the mark of a sister ... You could be angry, but still be there for one another when needed."

The book leaves an interesting idea to contemplate. Tomoe is the warrior; she leads men into battle and weilds a weapon with strength and agility. Yamabuki is initially depicted as fragile, docile and incapable of dealing with the harsh life she is to live. Tomoe is the fighter, and Yamabuki, the poet. Tomoe sees the danger, and Yamabuki, the beauty. Rachel and Drew draw the comparison to themselves, each thinking the other the strong one. Yet, ultimately, the book shows that the apparently strong have weaknesses, and the seemingly weak can display immense strength. As they discover, "there are times when being strong means you must accept your weakness."

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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