[Book review]Murderous missionIn “Island of Exiles” by I. J. Parker, Akitada, a lowly government clerk, is posted as a substitute for the absentee governor of Echigo, a “snow country” in northern Japan, during the 11th century Heian period.
His prospects of returning to the capital are remote. His superiors prefer to keep him away, due to manners transgressing prevailing bureaucratic norms.
His uncompromising reputation draws the attention of imperial envoys who arrive in Echigo and order him to investigate the mysterious death of the emperor’s exiled brother on the island of Sadoshima. Akitada undertakes the dangerous mission disguised as a convict exiled to the island and investigates the puzzles surrounding the prince’s fate and many more complex issues at stake.
His quest in the name of the emperor takes him on a journey of unimaginable darkness and cruelty. He makes an amazing discovery about the crime, but he is betrayed and faces a slow and terrifying death. The tale ends with heart-stopping battle scenes, rescue and justice served, and the order of the Heian universe, for perhaps just a little bit longer, intact.
Parker evokes the atmosphere shrouding the tiny universe of Japan of that period with great skill, an era which historians have described was simultaneously in flower and stasis, while on the periphery, clouds of trouble from restive tribes and warlords were gathering.
In her admirable weaving of historical and cultural features that defined Heian society, the author has opened a window into an epoch of Japanese history that had largely been obscured by the blood-soaked series of clashes of civilizations that followed — the images of an emergent Japan that have become familiar to outsiders.
By Teresita Reed