Picking Bones from Ash

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Three generations of women intersect in this evocative debut novel

My mother always told me that there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably and masterfully talented.

No one knows who fathered eleven-year-old Satomi, and the women of her 1950s Japanese mountain town find her mother’s restless sensuality a threat. Satomi’s success in piano competitions has always won respect, saving her ...

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Picking Bones from Ash: A Novel

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Three generations of women intersect in this evocative debut novel

My mother always told me that there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably and masterfully talented.

No one knows who fathered eleven-year-old Satomi, and the women of her 1950s Japanese mountain town find her mother’s restless sensuality a threat. Satomi’s success in piano competitions has always won respect, saving her and her mother from complete ostracism. But when her mother’s growing ambition tests this delicate social balance, Satomi’s gift is not enough to protect them. Eventually, Satomi is pushed to make a drastic decision in order to begin her life anew. Years later, Satomi’s choices echo in the life of her American daughter, Rumi, a gifted authenticator of Asian antiques. Rumi has always believed her mother to be dead, but when Rumi begins to see a ghost, she wonders: Is this the spirit of her mother? If so, what happened to Satomi?

Picking Bones from Ash explores the struggles women face in accepting their talents, and asks what happens when mothers and daughters dare to question the debt owed each other. Fusing imagination and suspense, Marie Mutsuki Mockett builds a lavish world in which characters journey from Buddhist temples to the black market of international antiques in California, as they struggle to understand each other across cultures and generations.

"Marie Mockett brings postwar Japan into the 21st Century with sensitivity and grace, drawing the lives of three women to illuminate the tension between two cultures. Picking Bones from Ash is a lovely book."KIT REED

"In Marie Mockett's first novel—which ranges in confident and lovely prose from a mountain town in mid-century Japan to an antiques business in contemporary San Franciscotemples, ghosts, and oni demons aren't inert markers of exoticism: they're embedded in a lived web of human relationships and everyday tasks. Beginning in a world as solid as Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, Picking Bones from Ash takes the reader down a rabbit-hole as matter-of-factly supernatural as that of Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This wiry and delicate novel, as grounded as it is surreal, goes down like a tall glass of water. Except it's spiked: like Rumi, the younger of Mockett's two heroines, you will be haunted until you finish this book." ELLIS AVERY

"Remarkable and arresting, this debut has the pleasures of a fairy tale and a novel at the same time. Mockett probes the family mythology of a very peculiar line of talented Japanese women who may or may not be descended from the Princess of the Moon, and spins the tale of how they survived post-war Japan, modernity and life in America. A spellbinding new talent." —ALEXANDER CHEE

"Mockett has made an impressive debut with Picking Bones from Ash. Here, she creates a fully-absorbing world with vivid characters who search for what was painfully lost to them. Mockett is a beautiful writer." MIN JIN LEE, author of Free Food for Millionaires

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this ambitious debut, the narration alternates between Satomi, a Japanese girl pushed by her mother to make her mark on the world, and Rumi, Satomi's American daughter who grows up in the mid-late 1960s believing her mother is dead. The novel is strongest at the beginning, as Satomi tells of her postwar childhood in a small Japanese village, the only girl without a father and the only girl with a talent: she is going to be a world-famous concert pianist. After her mother remarries, Satomi goes away to music school and, later, to Paris to perfect her craft. In Paris and back in Japan, Satomi falls in with the Western antique dealers who will eventually take her to the United States after her mother dies. The second half switches between the stories of Satomi and Rumi, who develops a skill at “reading” Asian antiques and begins to wonder about her mother when an old friend of her parents re-enters her life. Rumi's quest to unravel her tricky family history is absorbing, and even if it lacks the simple beauty of Satomi's coming-of-age narrative, Mockett succeeds where many others fail: making the reader care. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In her first novel, Mockett explores the relationships among three generations of women: Akiko, Satomi, and Rumi. Akiko urges daughter Satomi to put her talent as a pianist before anything else. Satomi has never known of her father, and that her mother has no husband is seen as a blight by many women in their small Japanese town of Kuma-ume. When her mother finally marries, Satomi's life is set on a course she has not planned. Satomi's daughter, Rumi, born and raised in San Francisco, grows up thinking that her mother has died. Rumi's talent, cultivated and encouraged by her father, is for authenticating Asian antiques. Like her mother, Rumi makes her talent her priority. But soon after she completes her college degree, Rumi begins having dreams and visions, which she believes to be the spirit of her mother calling to her. VERDICT Mockett's narrative is at its strongest early on, when she is telling Satomi's story. This imaginative take on a multigenerational novel will appeal to those who enjoyed Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.—Cristella Bond, Anderson P.L., IN\
Kirkus Reviews
A piano prodigy, daughter of a Japanese outcast, flees motherhood but can't escape pursuit by her American offspring. Akiko runs a bar in a country town in postwar Japan. Her daughter Satomi's father is unknown but rumored to be a foreigner. That, and the bar's popularity with the town's men, causes the locals to shun mother and daughter. When Satomi wins a piano competition, Akiko marries a prosperous fisherman to finance her daughter's musical education. While studying at a prestigious Tokyo conservatory, Satomi grows fond of a young man named Masayoshi. Fearing marriage will interfere with Satomi's concert career, Akiko discourages Masayoshi from proposing. The disappointed suitor becomes a Buddhist monk and ultimately gets his own temple in Akita to the north. Satomi goes to Paris, where her musical zeal gives way to passion for Timothy, a rakish American antique importer and occasional smuggler. Helping Timothy scout artifacts in Japan, Satomi learns of her mother's death. She attends Akiko's obsequies at Masayoshi's temple, where, not entirely by chance, she encounters Francois, another crooked Asian antique purveyor. Timothy is arrested in Tokyo and imprisoned. Disowned by her stepfamily, Satomi has no choice but to accompany Francois to California, where she's exploited as his underpaid antique authenticator and mistress. When Satomi gives birth to Rumi, she feels trapped and, on impulse, walks away from San Francisco and her infant. Francois raises Rumi, who soon evinces a collector's clairvoyance: objects tell her whether they're genuine or fake. She's haunted by the haggard ghost of a woman she assumes is the mother Francois has told her is dead. When Rumi discovers a morbidmaternal memento secreted with Francois' hot merchandise, she heads for Japan, where Masayoshi holds the key to Satomi's whereabouts. Debut novelist Mockett's portrayal of everyday life in Japan is engrossing, but the passivity of her protagonists belies her intent to demonstrate how talented women defy domestic constraints. Author tour in New York and San Francisco
From the Publisher
"[Picking Bones from Ash], so firmly anchored in a sensuous reality, veers into a dream world. A reader has the sense that even the author was driven by her most powerful character: the original mother, raising her daughter alone, shunned by villagers, forced to make decisions that haunt her descendants." LOS ANGELES TIMES

"Mockett succeeds where many others fail: making the reader care."PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"Solid and graceful. . . .Mockett combines the best elements of a mystery story, ghost story, magical realism and the complex difficulties in deciding what is 'best' for our elders and offspring." MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

"Mockett presents a well-written and notable story of three generations of strong-willed women, each in search of something just out of their grasp; the sacrifices they make for their daughters; and the unseen repercussions of choices made long ago." BOOKLIST

"A book of intelligence and heart. As Mockett reveals, the ghosts of our mothers are always within us."—AMY TAN


"Deeply preoccupied with girls, talent, and power."—MAUD NEWTON

"A voice so authentic and eloquent it is hard to believe this is Mockett's first novel." LARGEHEARTED BOY

"Picking Bones from Ash drew me in from the first sentence."THE FEMINIST REVIEW

"[A] poignant debut novel. . . .Amidst greediness, rationalism and misguided hope, [Mockett] beautifully illustrates the fervent presence of ancient and recent pasts."—POP DAMAGE

"I don't know when I last read a novel with two such captivating heroines as Marie Mutsuki Mockett conjures up in her intricate and absorbing novel Picking Bones From Ash. Like Satomi and Rumi, Mockett is 'fiercely, inarguably, and masterfully talented.' An immensely satisfying debut." —MARGOT LIVESEY

"Picking Bones from Ash beautifully interweaves the stories of three women with their own individual strengthsÉI definitely recommend you take this unique journey through these women's lives."THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS

"Marie Mockett is a remarkably engaging writer who manages to pull her audience into the protagonists' worlds from her first sentence. Her evocative descriptions of Japan conjure up images of a geography and culture rarely experienced by Westerners. . . that linger in the mind long after the reader has turned the final page." THE F WORD (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975760
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Marie Mutsuki Mockett was born in California to a Japanese mother and an American father. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City with her husband. This is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2011

    Beautiful writing, beautiful story

    I was captivated right from the start by the world Mutsuki Mockett created, the characters, their situation, the culture. She cris-crosses generations and continents as she unfolds the story of two extraordinarily talented women, one who grew up in Japan without a father and the other who grew up in America without a mother. I didn't want to put it down and was sad to finish.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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