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The Painting

The Painting

5.0 1
by Nina Schuyler

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In 1869 Japan, a young woman escapes the confines of her arranged marriage by painting memories of her lover on mulberry paper. She secretly wraps the painting around a ceramic pot that's bound for Europe. In France, a disenchanted young man works as a clerk at an import shop. When he opens the box from Japan, he discovers the brilliant watercolor of two lovers


In 1869 Japan, a young woman escapes the confines of her arranged marriage by painting memories of her lover on mulberry paper. She secretly wraps the painting around a ceramic pot that's bound for Europe. In France, a disenchanted young man works as a clerk at an import shop. When he opens the box from Japan, he discovers the brilliant watercolor of two lovers locked in an embrace under a plum tree. He steals the painting and hides it in his room. With each viewing, he sees something different, and gradually the painting transforms him.

Set outside the new capital of Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration and in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, The Painting is a richly imagined story of four characters whose lives are delicately and powerfully entwined: Ayoshi, the painter, pines for her lover as she dutifully attends to her husband; Ayoshi's husband, Hayashi, a government official who's been disfigured in a deadly fire, has his own well of secret yearnings; Jorgen, wounded by the war and by life, buries himself in work at the Paris shop; and the shop owner's sister, Natalia, who shows Jorgen the true message of the painting.

Exquisitely written and utterly spellbinding, The Painting reveals the enduring effect of art in ordinary life and marks the debut of a skilled stylist and first-rate storyteller.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A host of brittle characters populate this oblique historical novel, set in two very different locations at the same moment in history: Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration and Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Debut author Schuyler tenuously connects these settings when Ayoshi, a frantically unhappy young Japanese woman who seeks to escape her hated arranged marriage by painting memories of her old lover, sends off a painting wrapped around one of her husband's ceramic bowls. The bowls make their way to Paris, where the painting is discovered by Jorgen, a disabled mercenary soldier from Denmark sitting out the remainder of the war as a merchant's assistant. As miserable as Ayoshi, Jorgen finds himself drawn against his will to his boss's bastard sister Natalia, who has signed up to become a woman soldier. The novel shuttles back and forth between Japan and Paris, but Schuyler never develops a compelling reason to link the two periods, either in plot or in theme. The historical tragedies of Paris and Japan remain stubbornly separate, just as the characters remain unreachable, too caught up in their own webs of misery to become fully alive on the page. Schuyler opts to forgo traditional punctuation, which lends her prose a spare poetic sensibility, and relief comes from moments of almost haiku-like beauty ("She's like a slice of the moonlight") that break through the gloom. Agent, Michelle Tressler at Carlisle & Co. Author tour. (Oct. 22) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Every so often, you start a novel that you can't put down; Schuyler's debut is such a book. Set in the 1870s, it drops readers into two parallel worlds, that of Ayoshi, a 26-year-old Japanese artist trapped in a loveless marriage to a disabled potter, and that of Jorgen, a Danish soldier fighting for France in the Franco-Prussian War. When Jorgen is wounded, he is forced to take a job cataloging goods that will eventually be sold on the Parisian black market. Although Jorgen is bored by the position's repetitive demands, the discovery of an elegant and mysterious painting wrapped around a ceramic bowl from Japan propels him to reevaluate his assumptions about love, relationships, and autonomy. At the same time, he ponders the artist's motives and goals. While Jorgen and Ayoshi never meet in fact, they know nothing of each another the chronicle of their lives is tightly woven into a compelling narrative. The book has everything believable and interesting characters, fascinating social commentary, and a lively pace. Highly recommended. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
History scars hapless individuals in 19th-century France and Japan. A big year, 1870. In Japan, the opening to the West has begun, Buddhist temples are being closed or destroyed, and Shintoism is being installed as the national religion, while in France the Prussian army is closing in on Paris. East and West are yoked uncomfortably together in alternating sections, their one tenuous connection being a painting. In a town near Tokyo, Hayashi exports his own pottery to Europe. His childhood ended when a fire wiped out his family (his father had been plotting against the feudal regime), and now he lives unhappily with his wife, Ayoshi, knowing nothing of her background, her passionate love for an Ainu (Untouchable), or her abortion, arranged by her father, just like her marriage. Ayoshi mopes, preserving the Ainu in her paintings, one of which will find its way to Paris. The couple's household will be enlivened by the arrival of a monk. His monastery has been destroyed, and he will behave most unmonkishly, exchanging kisses with Ayoshi and, jealous already, ripping up an erotic painting. In Paris, we focus on Jorgen, a young Danish soldier fighting for the French to atone for impregnating and abandoning his Danish sweetheart. No, it doesn't quite compute, but then nothing Jorgen does makes sense. He trips over his rifle and has to have his leg amputated: no more soldiering. He goes to work for a Parisian importer, where he steals Ayoshi's painting. He falls for his employer's sister, the goodhearted Natalia, but realizes he needs her only after encouraging her to enlist. He recognizes the talismanic power of the painting (the universal language of art) but sells it anyway, then desperatelytries to buy it back. In a go-for-broke ending, Schuyler sends him aloft in a balloon, while, in Japan, Ayoshi burns her paintings and ships out to San Francisco. An ambitious first outing, but Schuyler has bitten off more than she can chew. Agent: Michelle Tessler/Carlisle & Company

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.07(d)

Meet the Author

Nina Schuyler received her B.A. from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University. Her stories have appeared in literary journals, including Sojourn Literary Arts Journal and New Town. Her work has been nominated for Best New American Voices and the Wilner Award, and in 2001 she received the Bay Area Fiction Journal Award. Schuyler teaches writing at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco and lives in Fairfax, California, with her husband and son. This is her first novel.

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5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love reading, but it is hard for me to find books that i can really get into. 'The Painting' by Nina Schuyler gave me everything that i was looking for. It is written excellently and the way she switches from one story to the other is truely brilliant. when i first started reading this book, i prefered the japan story, but as i progressed reading, i came to really enjoy the France story, and it became my favorite. Both stories captivated me and i couldn't put the book down until i was done. This is one the best books that i have ever read.