Lian Hearn, under her real name, Gillian Rubinstein, is a highly-successful author of books for children. She chose to use a pen-name when she turned to writing novels for adults about Japan. She also immersed herself in a period of Japanese history – the middle of the 19thCentury – which was possibly its most turbulent.
I knew a little about the enforced opening up of Japan to Western traders, but almost nothing about the catastrophic effect it had upon the social fabric of the country, as old rivalries were magnified and blood (lots of it) was spilt in what amounted to civil war. Sound a bit distant, or a bit “exotic”? In Blossoms and Shadows, Lian/Gillian makes it immediate and very human.
In her fascinating talk to a packed house at Mayfair Library (in a joint project with the Japan Society), she revealed the lengths she had gone to to make her narrative historically accurate (including several stays in Japan), and spoke of some of the devices she had used to meld the facts into a novel. Her narrator is a young Japanese woman with aspirations to become a doctor – a revolutionary idea, and a surprising but brilliant choice of guide to the male-dominated era and its high drama. Great book, great talk.