The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine GovierFriday, December 30, 2011
Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colourful world of nineteenth-century Edo, in which courtesans rub shoulders with poets, warriors consort with actors, and the arts flourish in an unprecedented moment of creative upheaval. Oei and Hokusai live among writers, novelists, tattoo artists, and prostitutes, evading the spies of the repressive shogunate as they work on Hokusai’s countless paintings and prints. Wielding her brush, rejecting domesticity in favour of dedication to the arts, Oei defies all expectations of womanhood—all but one. A dutiful daughter to the last, she will obey the will of her eccentric father, the man who created her and who, ultimately, will rob her of her place in history.
Vivid, daring, and unforgettable, The Printmaker’s Daughter shines fresh light on art, loyalty, and the tender and indelible bond between a father and daughter.
Set in 19th century Japan, the Edo period, The Printmaker's Daughter is a fascinating rendering of life’s hardships for Japanese women and artists in that era. Oei is the favourite daughter of her famous master painter artist father, Hokusai. Despite Hokusai’s fame, his family was truly poor. Born to him late in life, she immediately enchanted him because of her aptitude for art and her vivid personality, unusual for Japanese women. When he leaves his family to pursue his art, he takes his favourite child with him. Despite the restrictions imposed on her, she served as a dutiful business partner to her father, keeping his accounts, helping his students, and even secretly completing some of his art projects. He struggled against strict government control and strong sentiments against artists. He took his daughter along with him in his travels, leaving her in the care of courtesans in the pleasure district so he could work. Oei struggles to find a balance between honing her talent as an artist and learning the womanly household arts expected of a young woman in such a strict culture. She also grapples with her allegiance to a father she equally resents is sometimes repulsed by – a man truly selfish in his pursuits with poor appreciation for the Oei’s own sacrifices.
In this dual biographical historical novel about Oei and Hokusai’s lives, readers will experience rich details of Japanese life. Told in first person narrative through Oei’s point of view, this is a beautifully written and well-researched story. As with most biographical historical novels, I did find the pace slow at various points in the story. This is normal and to be expected; after all, true life is not always filled with constant turmoil and conflict. Therefore, readers should understand this and enjoy the story for what it is - an accurate portrayal of two struggling artists who left an indelible mark upon history, art, and culture in Japan. The novel describes a world far removed from that which we know in the West.
Oei’s story is one of dauntless courage to overcome cultural restrictions for women of the time. Through beautiful prose, the writer evokes emotion and I could not help becoming fascinated with this exotic story, especially when given glimpses into the brothel life and prostitution.
The Printmaker's Daughter was published in Canada as The Ghost Brush.