November 2006

Sanford May

big in japan

Far from Home

Koji Suzuki plays with themes of ancient mythology in all his work, even in the supernatural literary phenomenon that is his Ring Cycle of interrelated horror novels. It's no surprise that one of his earliest books, pre-dating his rocket to international stardom stimulated by the Ring books, is consumed with the significance of cultural mythology throughout several discreet ages. Timelessness is his theme in Paradise, and to a great degree it works well.

Paradise is ultimately a love story, a love story of the imperiled, dangerous kind, between Bogud and Fayau, who begin the tale as members of a Mongolian tribe living in Asian pre-history. At the outset, Bogud is still young, still awaiting his opportunity to take the solo hunting expedition that will mark his tribal place as a man, and so allow him to take a wife. And without doubt his choice for a wife is the beautiful and engaging Fayau.

Bogud is also a unique talent in his tribe, in that he can make drawings and sculptures, create pictures to describe the lives they live and the tasks they must perform in their daily existence. Being a brash young man he wishes to stretch the limits of tribal custom, and although he knows it is forbidden to create artistic representations of humans, he is compelled to create Fayau. This he does, but eventually his worry over exceeding tribal boundaries eats at him to the point he consults the tribal elder Tafune, a shaman, who tells him that doing this thing, drawing a human, will bring great tragedy on them all and ultimately prevent Bogud and Fayau from being together in life.

Yet Bogud soon sets off on his hunting quest. A difficult journey, he many times contemplates returning to his tribe in humiliation, having failed to bring home the spirit of a worthy animal. But it his is singular talent that saves him. He creates a hunter's decoy of the fabled red deer, and with that decoy he lures near the deer so that he may kill him. Bogud returns with the spirit of the red deer, and in the celebration Fayau evenutally becomes his wife. He dismisses the prohibition on drawing human figures as mere superstitious nonsense, and carries on with hopes of a long, pleasant life with his bride and their children.

There is of course more to the tribal taboo than Bogud was willing to give credit. A foreign warrior, Shalab, brings his mighty raiding party to Bogud's village, he kills the men and children, and, having seen the statue of Fayau that Bogud created, decides he must have her for his own. Shalab takes Fayau away to be his wife, as they plan to cross the legendary land bridge to another part of the world.

In the second part of Suzuki's novel, Fayau spirit imbues Laia, a Polynesian girl whose island is visited by the Western ship the Philip Morgan. The time is now the eighteenth century. Philip Morgan is carrying a young man named Jones who immediately falls for the beautiful Laia. Like Shalab in the first part of the story, Captain Violet in trying to serve his own ends of exploiting the Polynesian people for pure profit, interferes in the budding romance between Jones and Laia. Eventually Captain Violet is aided by like-minded profiteers from the ship Rattlesnake, a confluence of events that eventually leads to the destruction of the island paradise that Jones has known but briefly. Jones and Laia escape the conflagration, to the sea in a rickety raft the fate of which may never been known.

Suzuki's tale of the spirits of Bogud and Fayau then carries on in the late twentieth century, circa 1990. Bogud now spiritually embodied by Leslie, conductor of an orchestra, becomes entranced with the rarely lovely Flora. As it turns up, the corporeal Bogud is an ancient ancestor of young Flora, once again tying together the elements of a story that began on a vanishing land bridge in long-ago Mongolia. Indeed Leslie has just recently composed an orchestral piece about the land bridge that Bogud and Fayau crossed one after the other so long ago.

Suzuki's Paradise is such a vast divergence from his much more well known Ring Cycle, and his other works of short fiction in a similar vein, the fan of the popular Suzuki may have some trouble approaching this very different novel. Where Ring and its ilk are all supernaturally thrilling, harrowing and often horrifying, Paradise is more typically a tale of romance, be it modern and conceited or old world and even a bit swashbuckling. The effort however is well worth the time spent as devotees of all things Ring will soon discover another side of Suzuki the novelist that never fails to entertain and intrigue.

Paradise by Koji Suzuki
Vertical, Inc.
ISBN: 1932234233
288 Pages