Review: The Printmaker’s Daughter

Review: The Printmaker’s DaughterThe Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier
Published by HarperCollins on November 22, 2011
Genres: Historical
Pages: 494
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colorful 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 favor 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.

Drawn in by the pretty cover and the lure of Japan, I had little idea what to expect of this novel. Although the title suggests that the tale would be all about the relationship of a father and daughter, I did not really suspect that would be almost the entirety of what it was about. There is little romance. Mostly, this is a story of art and the family ties between these two.

Actually, given the romance there was, I am glad there was not more. The men Oei took up with were rather creepy, especially the first, a man of her father’s years (and he was not young when she was born) seduced her when she was only fifteen. Not strange for that time period, but that does not make it any more okay to me now.

The sections that really came alive were those about the making of the art. The loving discussion of the colors and the lines were touching, even for one, like me, who does not have an artistic bone in her body when it comes to painting, drawing, etc. Oei is a very strong woman, although not when confronted with her father, and she has more skill than most artists, even perhaps her lauded father.

In library school, we discussed at one point the legitimacy of someone from outside a culture trying to write a book about that culture. I don’t really know how I feel about that, but I think Govier has likely done a fantastic job. Her mass of research is evident from her Afterword, which goes into detail on why she wrote the novel and the historical basis for her suppositions.

I never really got swept away by this. Despite Oei’s strength, I had trouble relating to her and her decisions. There are certainly good things here, but this was not a perfect choice for me.


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