Schuyler, Nina 1963-
SCHUYLER, Nina 1963-
ADDRESSES: Home—Fairfax, CA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, P.O. Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2225.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Academy of Art College, San Francisco, CA, writing teacher.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bay Area Fiction Journal Award, 2001.
The Painting (novel), Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 2004.
Contributor of short stories to literary journals, including Sojourn Literary Arts Journal and New Town.
SIDELIGHTS: Writer and educator Nina Schuyler is the author of The Painting, a novel that explores connections between characters who do not even know each other in 1870s Tokyo and Paris. While the Meiji Restoration unfolds in Japan, systematically eliminating Buddhism in favor of Shintoism, the Franco-Prussian War rages in France and Prussian troops bear down on Paris. In this context, the lives of a Japanese couple and a Danish soldier fighting for the French, who never meet, become inextricably intertwined.
In Japan, talented potter and government official Hayashi works in his shop and exports his wares to Europe. Disabled by a fire that killed his family and disfigured his feet when he was a child, Hayashi spends his days in quiet labor. His wife, the beautiful artist Ayoshi, is desperately unhappy in her arranged marriage. She longs for the life she had before coming to the potter's house, when she was in love with a strikingly handsome young Ainu (untouchable), a man she could never have but who now haunts her both waking and dreaming, and who serves as the muse for the breathtaking erotic works she paints in watercolor. Hayashi remains blithely unaware of his wife's desires, as well as of her former lover and the abortion she had. Ayoshi hates her life and resents the deformity that afflicts her husband, though she has some sympathy for his situation. "She cannot find space for him in her heart—it is too full with the desire to paint the world she sees, especially the memories of her beautiful lover, who she misses deeply," noted reviewer Cindy Lynn Speer for Bookreporter.com.
After creating a particularly stirring, sensuously elegant painting, Ayoshi realizes that she cannot risk letting her husband find it. She wraps the painting around one of his ceramic bowls, destined for shipment to Paris. Arriving at its destination, the painting is found by Jorgen, a Danish soldier in the service of France. Jorgen served in the military to assuage the guilt he felt for abandoning his pregnant Danish girlfriend. An accident led to the amputation of his leg—he tripped over his own rifle and shot himself—and now Jorgen works for the importer that brought Hayashi's bowl—and Ayoshi's painting—into the country. Unhappy with his own life, Jorgen hates the mind-numbing repetitiveness of his job. After discovering the astonishing painting, he ponders the artist's life and motivations and finds that his own concepts of love and loyalty are being tested by a fledgling relationship with his boss's illegitimate but good-hearted sister. Jorgen encourages her to become a soldier and enlist in the army, which she does, but only then does he realize how much he needs her. As he sells the painting, which he later bitterly regrets, Ayoshi consigns her remaining works to fire and leaves Japan for San Francisco.
Library Journal reviewer Eleanor J. Bader remarked that The Painting "has everything—believable and interesting characters, fascinating social commentary, and a lively pace." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called The Painting "an ambitious first outing," but concluded that "Schuyler has bitten off more than she can chew" with her complex first novel. Booklist reviewer Allison Block named the book an "iridescent first novel" with "lean, lyrical prose," concluding that it stands as an "engrossing debut."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2004, Allison Block, review of The Painting, p. 1902.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2004, review of The Painting, p. 773.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Eleanor J. Bader, review of The Painting, p. 142.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 2004, review of The Painting, p. 68.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (May 23, 2005), Cindy Lynn Speer, review of The Painting.
SFWeekly.com, http://www.sfweekly.com/ (December 22, 2004), Joyce Slaton, review of The Painting.