The Snow Fox
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The Snow Fox

4.7 4
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

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"A spare, subtle, moving love story that builds and sustains its own utterly believable world." —Elizabeth Ward, Washington Post
One thousand years ago, chaos loosed itself upon Japan, upending an era in which the arts flourished. At the dawn of 250 years of civil war, in the opulent court of Lord Norimasa, the beautiful but cruel poet Lady Utsu wages war


"A spare, subtle, moving love story that builds and sustains its own utterly believable world." —Elizabeth Ward, Washington Post
One thousand years ago, chaos loosed itself upon Japan, upending an era in which the arts flourished. At the dawn of 250 years of civil war, in the opulent court of Lord Norimasa, the beautiful but cruel poet Lady Utsu wages war with men's hearts and holds the fearsome lord and his devoted samurai Matsuhito in her thrall. As the two men raze Japan's landscape in futile battles for unity, Utsu falls for Matsuhito even as Lord Norimasa continues to love her. The epic romance of Utsu and Matsuhito resumes itself decades later, when they meet as vagrants so transformed by time that they no longer recognize each other; they are reunited through their mystical connection to a pair of snow foxes that are their only company in the Japanese wilderness. The heartbreaking story of their renewed love is fraught by the Japanese concept of mono no aware—life's ephemeral nature—that weighs on the lovers. Reading group guide included.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Schaeffer tells her story in epic style, as if it were being related by a chronicler contemporary with the events described. Much is not explained, creating the illusion that the knowing reader is also a part of this world. When, for example, Lady Tsukie, Lord Norimasa's wife, has a child, we are expected to take it for granted that archers will twang their bows to keep evil at bay, that exorcists will be summoned. The novel's language is slightly stilted and portentous, like a translation of an ancient text. We see events not directly but from the perspectives of various participants. Everything is described obliquely -- sometimes confusingly -- through dialogue and dreams, memories and thoughts. — Lesley Downer
Publishers Weekly
Critically praised for her remarkable capacity to evoke time and place in her gorgeous novels (Polish concentration camps in Anya; the Vietnam war in Buffalo Afternoon), Schaeffer here transports the reader to medieval Japan in a haunting tale of thwarted love and unsolved mysteries. Lady Utsu, renowned both for her beauty and her cruelty, is the ward of the great Lord Norimasa. While Norimasa has been kind to Utsu, as a test of loyalty he forces her to kill her lover. When Utsu falls in love again, with Norimasa's prot g , the samurai Matsuhito, she flees the palace. Though they are unaware of the coincidence, Utsu and Matsuhito each adopt a pet fox named after the other, as surrogate for and symbol of their yearning. Their poignant reunion decades later in the snow country, mixing bliss and grief, becomes a transfiguring event. Schaeffer creates an atmosphere as delicate and precise as an etching, yet raw with violence. The story is permeated with cultural details, from palace etiquette to the customs of childbirth. It's a world of extreme gentility and utter barbarity: while the upper classes weave poetry into their formal conversations, peasants are slaughtered like animals, and victorious warlords display heads on spikes. As Utsu and Matsuhito experience passion and grief, the plaintive leitmotif is the fleeting nature of life. The plot doubles back upon itself, as Lady Utsu and Matsuhito recall earlier incidents in memory and dreams. This device adds depth, but it also slows the narrative; readers must be patient. In the end, however, the novel achieves a cumulative, transporting magic. Agent, Jean V. Naggar. 6-city author tour. (Feb.) Forecast: This is a perfect dead-of-winter book, and should entice readers with its elegant jacket image of a demure nude. The easy comparison is Memoirs of a Geisha, but Akira Kurosawa's film The Seven Samurai (Schaeffer's original inspiration) is a better reference point. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 11th-century Japan, two long-lost lovers are brought together again by a pair of snow foxes. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A carefully researched if rather ho-hum tale about a Japanese courtesan who scorns all but one of the men obsessed with her: the latest from the prolific Schaeffer (The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat 1998, etc.). Lady Utsu is a cruel mistress, as her aged servant Aki knows well. Behind closed screens, the women grind glass in a mortar to kill Lord Tsuronosuke, the uncle of her lover, Lord Norimasa. Knowing that the gluttonous Tsuronosuke will be unable to resist the delicacies set forth at their private feast is just the sort of irony that Lady Utsu relishes. Perhaps she will commemorate the occasion by composing a poem or two. Days later, hearing from Norimasa about Tsuronosuke's slow, agonizing death brings a faint smile to her delicate lips. But back behind the screens she goes, passing long hours in sewing and scheming with the other women of the palace. She pines for a freedom she cannot have, composes more poetry, and so forth. When not glumly contemplating moonlit gardens or beheading people, Lord Norimasa occasionally visits her or his jealous wife, Lady Tsukie, and their seven ugly children. But Lady Utsu pays little heed-she has seduced Matsuhito, Lord Norimasa's samurai retainer. Though loyal to his lord, Matsuhito finds the feral charms of Lady Utsu irresistible. Indeed, she is associated in the narrative with wild animals, among them a stray cat that miraculously survives a beating by a servant, and a magical white fox. Wandering through medieval Japan, Matsuhito meets just such a fox in his wanderings, which shape-shifts into Lady Utsu, and the lovers are reunited. Meandering and unfocused, written with a labored simplicity that will remind many of another well-meaningWestern chronicler of the mysterious East: Pearl Buck. Agent: Jean Naggar/Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer (1940 - 2011) was a Professor of English and author of fourteen novels, six poetry collections, and other works.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 25, 1941
Date of Death:
August 26, 2011
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
Place of Death:
Chicago, Illinois
B.A., University of Chicago, 1961; M.A., University of Chicago, 1963; Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1966

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Snow Fox 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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always_true More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was amazing. The character development was unbelievable. I was instantly transported and felt that I was watching the story take place right in front of me. I would definitely recommend this to all the book junkies that want to escape to another world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I await each of her novels with great expectations. In Anya, Buffalo Afternoon and the others, she place you in the time and space of her works. The Snow Fox does it again! She speaks of the Japanese warlords as if she had been there to record the events. Splendid.