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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Budding Tree

Kitahara Aiko

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Title: The Budding Tree
Author: Kitahara Aiko
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 170 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Budding Tree - US
The Budding Tree - UK
The Budding Tree - Canada
  • Six Stories of Love in Edo
  • Japanese title: 恋忘れ草
  • Translated by Ian MacDonald

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing historical pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Budding Tree is presented as Six Stories of Love in Edo (meaning the Edo period in Japan (1600-1868), with these stories set in the early 19th century), but it is not solely or even primarily a collection of romances. What is most striking about the stories is that they centre on independent women, who have managed to establish themselves professionally -- unusual in that time, as well as in fictions about that time. Where one is used to hearing only of geishas who perhaps achieve some measure of independence, Kitahara presents teachers, shopkeepers, artists, and a woman who runs a restaurant.
       Their situations are unusual, and often more precarious than that of a male in the same position would be. They generally came to their professions because the men in their lives -- fathers, brothers, husbands -- died or failed (or failed them) in some way, and rather than seek protection from another male by marrying or letting some other family-member take over the business they have shouldered the burden themselves.
       Kitahara doesn't overdo it, but these are certainly feel-good stories of female empowerment. There are struggles and hardships, as, for example, when the teacher takes over her father's school and fewer and fewer pupils enroll (until, of course, people realise how well-prepared for the working world her graduates are) or in running a restaurant in hard times, but these are women who are good at what they do, and dedicated to their work. Significantly, too, they frequently don't follow the well-meaning 'advice' of others (mainly men) and rely on their instincts: the jeweler doesn't play it safe but rather tries out new designs, for example, or the copyist takes the initiative and rewrites a section of a book that otherwise won't get published.
       There are also sympathetic male figures here, though often romance is more in the air than fully acted on, the stories suggesting a future but leaving it open. Here too Kitahara shows a delicate but not sappy touch.
       These stories are also period pieces, and though it's hard to judge how authentic they might be this picture of Japan from those times she presents is interesting and appealing (without getting bogged down in period-detail and explanation).
       In a way these stories are almost unremarkable, yet these lives are all of interest, and the stories read easily and well. Fine small tales.

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The Budding Tree: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kitahara Aiko (北原亞以子) was born in 1938.

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