‘’Grass for His Pillow’’ is the sequel to the international best seller “Across the Nightingale floor’’, the second book of Tales of the Otori.
We return to the medieval Japan of Lian Hearn’s creation—a land of harsh beauty and deceptive appearances. In a complex social hierarchy, amid dissembling clans and fractured allegiances, is there a place for passionate young love?
I was so disturbed by the decision that Takeo makes in this book.
Takeo possess superhuman gifts such as the ability to become invisible, project a double image of himself and hear distant conversations as we saw in the first book. Skills that only the Tribe has which is a secret organization of spies and assasins or should we say an enforced occupation that his father sacrificed his own life to escape?
The deer that weds
The autumn bush clover
Sires a single fawn
And this fawn of mine
This lone boy
Sets off on a journey
Grass for his pillow
Takeo is bound to the Tribe by his oath and although he is given the chance to marry Kaede, he feels obligated to follow the Tribe.
(What??? man are you insane? These were my first thoughts, but hey, there would be no story without these obstacles).
Meanwhile, Takeo’s beloved Shirakawa Kaede, heir to the Murayama and alone in the world, must find a way to unify the domain she has inherited, as she fights off the advances of would-be suitors and hopes against fading hope, that Takeo will return to her…
Death comes suddenly and life is fragile and brief. No one can alter this either by prayers or spells.
The Tribe both admire and loathe Takeo for his powerful abilities and lack of discipline. As they force him into the rigorous and brutal training program of ninjutsu, Takeo slips further and further into despair.
His only support is the beautiful (and quite flexible) daughter of his teacher Muto Kenzi. Her name is Yuki and he develops a sexual relationship with her although his heart is given wholly to Kaede.
Who is now pregnant with Takeo’s child and arrives at her homeland Shirakawa only to find destroyed lands by war and famine and a maddened father.
Ofcourse we can add to this love triangle , Accio, a rival of Takeo who claims the heart of Yuki. But Yuki has eyes only for Takeo and Takeo only loves Kaede. What a mess! Right?
The text is highly descriptive and weaves a haunting image of the Three Countries. There is nothing in this story that is not simply stunning. Hearn catches fresh details of trees, birds, rivers and mountains. Scents and tastes transports us also into this world. With quick, direct sentences like brushstrokes on a Japanese scroll, she suggests vast and mysterious landscapes full of both menace and wonder.
However, the book contains some brutal scenes blunted in the edges by its poetic language. Events that we cannot even begin to understand in real life, such as a father trying to rape his own daughter. So bear that in mind in case you suggest it to younger teens.
Takeo and Kaede are growing up in this novel while trying to overcome treacherous, shifting clan alliances.
Will Kaede manage to turn her back on tradition and remain unwed while controlling her lands?
Will Takeo escape the horrendous Tribe’s treatment and return to his rightful place as an Otori Lord?
Biography: Lian Hearn is a pseudonym for Gillian Rubinstein, a well-known Australian writer of children’s books and plays. She chose not to publish Tales of the Otori, (the series originally consisted of three books but she later added two more books) under her own name so as to have her first adult book judged in its own right and not compared to her previous writing for children. She chose her name by combining her childhood nickname (the last letters of Gillian) and the surname of Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish writer who lived in Japan at the end of the 19th century.
In June 2002, some time after the book had been sold on its own merits to publishers in multiple countries, and optioned for film writes, Rubinstein admitted that she was the author, saying «I think there is a strong tendency among the spectators or the readers of culture to pigeonhole people, and that’s the thing that artists hate having done to them. They want to be free to do whatever seems to be the right thing at the time.»
Rubenstein was born in England, grew up in the countryside and divided her teenage years between her mother and her stepfather’s home in Nigeria, a remote English village and boarding school. She studied languages at Oxford University, traveled in Europe and worked in London, as an editor, freelance journalist, script assessor and film critic. She emigrated to Australia in 1973. Rubinstein has had a long-standing interest in Asia and returned to Japan in 1999 on a residency to work on what would become Tales of the Otori.
Title: Grass for His Pillow
Author: Hearn Lian
Year of publication: 2004
Image maker: Panagiota Goutzourela