The Goddess Chronicleby Natsuo Kirino
“Kirino wows with her latest novel. . . . Readers will devour this tragic story and be left transformed.” —Publishers Weekly
In a place like no other, on a mystical island in the shape of teardrop, two sisters are born into an esteemed family of oracles. Kamikuu is admired far and wide for her otherworldly beauty; small and headstrong Namima learns to live in her sister’s shadow. On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is chosen to become the next Oracle, serving the realm of light, while Namima is forced to serve the realm of darkness. As the sisters undergo opposite fates, Namima is caught in an elaborate web of treachery and embarks on a journey that takes her from the experience of first love to the aftermath of scalding betrayal. From internationally bestselling crime writer Natsuo Kirino comes a mythical slice of feminist noir that sumptuously reimagines the ancient Japanese creation myth of Izanami and Izanaki.
“Fans of Kirino’s crime novels will find much to savor in The Goddess Chronicle. . . . Kirino is a master at creating an atmosphere of unease and distrust between her characters. In her skillful hands we see that the divide between man and woman is greater than the one between humans and gods. Kirino’s retelling is a taut, disturbing and timeless tale, filled with rage and pathos for the battles that women have to fight every day, battles which have, apparently, existed from the moment of creation.” —Tang Twan Eng, The Guardian
“A dark and lovely feminist retelling of the Japanese creation myth.” —NPR.com
“[An] enthralling tale of love, death and sisterhood. . . . It serves to immerse us in a world and mythology very different from our own. And yet, in the end, not so different.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
“Both realistic and dreamlike . . . Kirino writes lyrically as she spins a magical and ethereal tale.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A story of love and betrayal and then love once again. . . . A very good book that should be read and enjoyed by everyone.” —Minneapolis Examiner
“Kirino wows with her latest novel . . . [her] elegant writing brings Namima—a tragic, sympathetic heroine—to vivid life. Readers will devour this tragic story and be left transformed.” —Publishers Weekly
“The central narrative is lyrical, with an impelling storyline that demands attention . . . This is a compelling tale, with foundations in an allegory-rich fable that more than deserves its rejuvenation.” —The Independent
“Kirino captures the rivalry-laced love of sisters, the bitterness of the female role in mythology and the destructive powers of yearning for vengeance.” —Shelf Awareness
“[The Goddess Chronicle] will make you think. There is a feel of the oral tradition of storytelling in this book that makes it seem like a story handed down from the older generation rather than a novel. One can almost imagine sitting with their grandmother and listening to this story and then passing it along to children of the next generation when the time comes. It is a feminist work in that it stars strong women in the lead roles and explores the roles of gender, but it is much more than that as well. It is a story of love and betrayal and then love once again. . . . A very good book that should be read and enjoyed by everyone.” —Minneapolis Examiner
“Charged with the power of Japanese myth, tempered by the author’s resonant prose, and propelled by a young woman’s love and sorrow, The Goddess Chronicle is a haunting fable, a literary phantasia.” —Alan Brennert, author of Moloka’i and Honolulu
“If you have enough time, I’m going to recommend you sit down and read this one straight through. . . . Although The Goddess Chronicle is not a mystery story, per se, I felt the same kind of insistent tug to read on that I get when reading mysteries.” —Three Percent
“Kirino’s foray into folklore shares similarities with her earlier novels, namely, female characters who, wronged by lovers, choose to resist societal expectations and fight to rectify injustice. Readers who enjoy crime fiction or re-envisioned myth will find that this imaginative veneer works well on such reliable scaffolding.” —Booklist
“Kirino enjoys depicting her heavenly characters as capricious and temperamental, much like the Greek gods. Yet despite the very human motivations of all involved, Kirino maintains an air of intriguing supernatural strangeness.” —Metro
“A spectacle that includes multiple layers of opposing forces . . . [Kirino] uniquely depicts an unruly mythological world.” —Shincho Magazine
“In her wildly far-reaching tale of relations between gods and men, men and women, life and death, darkness and light, Kirino tells a peripatetic, global, and truly satisfying love story of how it is to be human.” —Stella Duffy, author of The Purple Shroud
“An extraordinary re-telling of one small piece of a body of myth often overlooked in the West. . . . Kirino’s novel serves as a fascinating, approachable introduction to an ancient body of myth, thought and ritual.” —ZYZZYVA
Named one of Flavorwire‘s “10 Contemporary Japanese Writers You Should Know”
My name is Namima—”Woman-Amid-the-Waves.” I am a miko. Born on an island far, far to the south, I was barely sixteen when I died. Now I make my home among the dead, here in this realm of darkness. How did this come to pass? And how am I now able to utter words such as these? It is all because of the goddess: it is her will, nothing less. How strange it must seem, but the emotions I have now are much sharper than they ever were when I was alive. The words I speak, the phrases I weave together, are born from the very emotions I embody.
This tale may be spun from my words but I speak for the goddess, the one who governs the Realm of the Dead. My words may be dyed red with anger; they may tremble in yearning after the living; but they are all, each and every one, spoken to express the sentiments of the goddess.
As will become clear later, I am a priestess—a miko—and like the famous reciter of old, Hieda no Are, who entertains the goddess with ancient tales from the age of the gods, I too serve her with all my heart.
The goddess I serve is named Izanami. I’ve been told that iza means “well, then” and suggests an invitation; mi is “woman”. She is “the woman who invites.” Her husband’s name is Izanaki: ki translates as “man.” Izanami is the woman among women; she is all women. It would not be an overstatement to say that the fate she suffered is the fate that all the women of this land must bear.
Let me begin this tale of Izanami. But before I can speak of her, I must tell you my own story. I will start with my strange little life, brief as it was, and relate how I came to serve in Izanami’s realm.
I was born on a tiny island in the easternmost reach of an archipelago, far to the south of the great land of Yamato. My island was so far south, It took one of our little boats almost half a year to row there from Yamato. And it was so far to the east, it was closer than all the rest to the rising of the sun in the morning, and by the same token to its setting in the evening. For that reason, it was believed that it was upon our island that the gods first set foot on land. It was small but sacred, and revered from ancient times.
Yamato is the large island to the north, and in time the other islands in the surrounding seas fell under its control. But when I was alive the islands were still ruled by the ancient gods. Those we revered were our great ancestors. They sustained our lives; the waves and wind, the sand and stones. We respected the grandeur of nature. Our gods did not come to us in any specific form, but we held them in our hearts and understood them in our own way.
When I was a little girl, the god I usually pictured in my imagination was a graceful woman. Occasionally she would grow angry and cause terrible storms, but for the most part she provided for us with the fruits of the sea and the land. She was a compassionate goddess, protecting our men when they set out for the distant seas to fish. Perhaps my image of this goddess was influenced by the austere dignity of my grandmother, Mikura-sama. I will speak more of Mikura-sama in good time.
The shape of our island is unusual, resembling a teardrop. The northern cape is pointed and sharp, like the end of a spear, with dangerous crags jutting into the sea. Closer to the coast the terrain is gentle, sloping to a flat shoreline that wraps softly round the island. Along the southern end the land is nearly level with the sea. Whenever a tsunami blows ashore, that area swells with water. The island is so small that a woman or even a young child could walk its entirety in less than half a day.
Countless pretty beaches grace the south. Over time the pounding waves beat the coral reefs into fine pure white sand, which glitters when the sun strikes it. The seas are blue, the sand white, and all along the coast yellow hibiscus grow rampant. The fragrance of the midnight peach scents the sea breezes. I cannot imagine anywhere else on earth as beautiful as the beaches of my island. The men would set sail from these beaches to fish and trade and would not return for close to half a year. In times when the fishing was not good, they’d press on to more distant islands to trade and would be gone for more than a year.
Our men caught sea serpents off our shores, gathered the shells from our beaches, and carried them to islands further south where they traded them for woven goods, strange fruits and, on rare occasions, rice. Their trading done, they would turn their boats and sail home. As a child I enjoyed those homecomings. My elder sister and I would run to the beach every day and eagerly look out to sea, hoping to be the first to catch sight of our father and older brothers returning.
The southern side of our island was thick with tropical trees and flowers, the life there so abundant the wonder of it could take your breath away. The roots of the banyan trees twisted and coiled across the sandy soil. Large camellias and the fronds of the fan palm blocked the rays of the sun. And broadleaf plantains grew in clusters where natural spring water bubbled up in pools. Life on the island was poor—food was scarce—but the flowers bloomed in such profusion that our surroundings were exquisite. White trumpet lilies grew along the steep cliffs, along with the hibiscus—which changed hue as the sun set—and purple morning glories.
The northern side of the island, with its cape, was quite different. Blessed with a rich loamy soil in which almost anything could grow, every inch of ground was covered with pandan thickets. The thorny spines on the leaves were so sharp it was impossible to walk through them. There wasn’t a single road through the region, and passage to the cape from the beach was impossible. The sea on the northern side was not like that of the south, with its beautiful beaches: it was treacherous—deep, with swift-flowing currents. The waves that beat against the cliffs were rough. Only a god could land on the island in the north, of that there was no doubt.
But there was one way in. There was a sliver of path between the pandan trees just wide enough for an adult to pass. If more than one should travel there, they had to walk in single file. The path was thought to link the south to the northern cape. But none of us was allowed to test it. Only one person was meant to walk that path, and that was the high priestess, the Oracle. The northern cape was sacred ground: it was where the gods came, on their visits to our island, and where they left.
A huge black boulder marked the entrance to the path and stood as a reminder to those of us who lived clustered together on the southern shores that we were forbidden to enter the sacred ground to the north. We called the boulder “The Warning”. Other stone slabs had been erected beneath the boulder and formed a small altar where we held our sacred rites. The path that opened behind the boulder was dark, even at midday, and during the rituals that were performed there, we children would be so shaken with fear if we caught sight of the yawning darkness that we’d turn on our heels and race home. We’d been told that the harshest punishment awaited any who dared go beyond The Warning. But more than the horrors we knew awaited us, it was the imagined ones that filled us most with fear.
There were other places on our island that were taboo, one to the east, the other to the west. They were sacred and only women who had come of age were allowed to set foot inside them. The Kyoido was on the eastern side of the island, the Amiido to the west. The Oracle lived just beneath the entrance to the small cape that jutted over the sea, and the Kyoido abutted her cottage. The Amiido was in the precinct of the dead. Whenever anyone died, they were carried there.
As children we had heard that the Kyoido and the Amiido were tucked away in secret groves of pandans and banyans, where the growth fell back to form a circle. No one cut so much as a blade of grass there; the thickets naturally gave way to those circular openings. And within each sacred area a natural spring welled up into a pool—Kyoido means “Pure Well” and Amiido “Well of Darkness.” That is what I had been told, anyway, but I knew no more than that, except that they were forbidden to all but adult women. Only during funerals were men and small children allowed to enter.
I knew that when I came of age I would be allowed to enter. Part of me wanted to grow up quickly so that I could know what was hidden there, while another part felt an undertow of dread. I would stealthily peer through the brambles along the small dark paths that led to those secret spots, wondering. But I never tried to draw near the Amiido, where the dead were left. I found it far too frightening.