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Ilhem

Ilhem

Sins of the Father - Anna O'Neill 3,5 starsI picked “Sins of the Father” on a whim and it was such a pleasant surprise that I read it twice in a row, but the fact remains that it can also be a bit disconcerting. In its form, at least.It is a short story rather than a novella and it ends abruptly at 77%, which is irritating and is a disservice to the story but I’m rating the author’s work, not the publisher’s.It is timeless and could happen in a period expanding from the Middle Age to the end of the feudal system in Japan in the 19th century. Nevertheless, it is clear that the characters are shinobis – ninjas – living in a feudal society organized in clans ruled by daimyos – feudal lords – and my wild guess is that what is important here is the societal system, not the exact time in history. Although I think that there are clues here and there for someone who’s in the know of Japanese culture and history, I didn’t need to carbon date the story to grasp what happened and enjoy it.The only thing I frowned at in this regard, are the dialogs that often sounded oddly modern : there is a balance between accessibility and authenticity that is not completely successful here.The narrative’s structure is not visually marked and gives the impression of jumping erratically from one place to another, from one event to another. Jumping it does, but erratic it isn’t! I can assure you that I saw a very neat guiding line and that not only wasn’t I bothered by the structure but I did enjoy the change.Forewarned is forearmed, let’s get to the story now!“Sins of the Father” opens in the middle of an action, on what looks like a mission ending badly. Two men are running through a forest at sunset, followed by the sounds of barking dogs and while shinobis are not brothers and should think of the mission first, Kaname is not one to follow orders blindly and refuses to leave his injured partner behind.From then on, Kaname’s and Sora’s story is told in snapshots that are moments of connection and growing intimacy between the two men, as if stolen from the bigger story of their lives and their clans. They’re living pictures portraying touch by touch a society based on a concept of family as a line without actual past, present and future, absorbing the individuals in a timeless group that prevails on them.We learn that 19 years old captain Sora is suffocating under the weight of it and struggling with the renunciation of wanting for himself, trying to master impassiveness, but still so young, flushed and wanting; that older Kaname was already crushed by the weight of it, masters stern indifference and deadpan mockery, yet is so obviously lacking willpower as far as Sora is concerned.We learn the story of Kaname’s disgrace and how the two clans are intertwined and irreparably estranged at the same time, but the guiding story line is their connections as desiring individuals and as such, it is a sweet, sexy and sometimes funny romance that comes to full circle despite its open ending.The less than 50 pages don’t give much place for character development and deep introspection, the strokes in portraying the characters are sometimes a little exaggerated : Sora is a little too childish here, Kaname a little too mysterious there, but I really liked their encounters and their story.I am far from being an expert in Japanese culture and history and the unusual – for me – setting was a great part of my enjoyment. I found that the author wrote an easy read without falling into cheap exoticism and I loved the evocative touch in her writing.I always feel awkward recommending a book because I can’t promise that you will love it too. What I say however is : stay away from this book if you’re more comfortable with a ‘traditional’ story telling and hate being left guessing; otherwise, be curious and see by yourself, you might have a pleasant surprise too. My only regret is that I’d love to read a novel by the same author and there is frustratingly none.