About the Novel
As a child, Oei joined her father Hokusai, the world famous printmaker, in his studio. In 19th century Japan, where a woman was considered a possession of her menfolk, Oei laboured to bring first her father’s and then her own visions to life. Her home of Edo (Tokyo) was the largest city in the world, teeming with peasants, samurai, townsmen, merchants, and nobles. Eccentric, free-living and devoted, Oei left hundreds of beautiful pictures. But she-- and her work-- are lost to history.
Or are they?
Hokusai and Oei frequented the “floating world” of licensed brothels, teahouses and kabuki theatres, its dynamic culture parodying everything aristocratic.
Oei took women as her special subject. She contrasted the lives of courtesans and townswomen with those of noblewomen. She illustrated manuals for female behavior-- etiquette, housekeeping, fashion, even childbirth. Butappropriate female behavior was precisely what she refused to adopt. She drank, smoked, divorced and took lovers-- yet always remained a dutiful daughter.
Oei’s drive to paint led her through the barriers of tyranny, political upheaval and famine. But when her strength was pitted against the man who made her who she was- the iconic Hokusai, creator of The Great Wave and 36 Views of Mount Fuji, she could only submit.
Now, 150 years after the death of Edo’s great eccentrics, scholars examine the thousands of Hokusai paintings that are in museums from New York to London to Amsterdam to Tokyo. Some are called forgeries: others are acknowledged to be the work of students. But the authorship of the greatest works, painted in the last ten years of Hokusai’s life, is a mystery.
This powerful novel combines international research, scholarly detective work, and imagination. A great, lost woman artist is brought to life-- as is the process by which she was subtracted from history.