Andrez Bergen’s novel pulls a neat trick. It is not actually about its protagonist, Wolram E. Deaps. Instead, it is the mysterious geisha, Kohana, which the story focuses on. The story uses her tumultuous life to explore the recent history of Japan. I should mention that the novel starts after Wolram and Kohana are dead. Bergen uses the “life flashing before your eyes” routine to great effect. The novel is a series of vignettes as we track through Kohana’s past and Wolram complains.
This is essentially a character study of two very different people and the many small tragedies that make up a life. The characters are strong enough that about halfway through the novel, the big, important historical events stop being the focus, and the characters take the center stage. I loved this transition. I found the characters compelling and amusing. Both are deeply broken (and dead), but they are able to come to grips with their horrible pasts.
There is one problem that I had with the book. There was a tendency, especially during the first half, for the prose to get very complicated. I love all kinds of writing, but this got a little over done. There were passages that were more complex and hard to read than they needed to be. This wasn’t a deal breaker, but it is a real hurdle, in the sense that once you make it far enough, it is smooth sailing. There is no jumping involved.
Ultimately, I liked where the book was going the entire time, and by the end, the writing was much simpler. This really is a sweet story about two people. Sometimes, that is all you need to tell a good story. This is definitely a book that rewards your patience. I’m glad I stuck with it, and I think you will be, too.
Three Fugu Livers out of Five