by Koji Suzuki
Review by Cathy Green
Vertical Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 1932234233
Date: 26 September, 2006 List Price $21.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Readers may be familiar with Koji Suzuki primarily for his j-horror Ringu books which were made into highly successful films first in Japan and then in the United States. What readers may not realize is that Mr. Suzuki's first novel was not The Ring, but the 1990 fantasy novel Rakuen (translated as Paradise), which won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award. Fortunately, Koji Suzuki's award-winning fantasy novel has now been translated into English by Tyram Grillo and published by Vertical, Inc.
Paradise is an epic romance divided into three parts spanning several millennia. The first part, Legend, tells the love story of Bogud and Fayau, two members of a prehistoric Mongolian tribe called the Tangad. Bogud is a talented artist, a drawer of horses and other animals that were so incredibly lifelike it was rumored they would slip off the cave walls and secretly graze down by the lake while the tribe was sleeping. Bogud limited his drawing to animals, never drawing images of people because of a deeply held tribal taboo. Bogud had never been told the reason for the taboo, but it was a strongly held and unquestioned belief. As Bogud approached adulthood, he fell in love with Fayau and became overwhelmed by the desire to immortalize her image. The desire became so overwhelming that he sneaked away from the village and created his masterwork down by the riverbank. It was only once he had created the monument to his love that he thought to ask a tribal elder the reason for the taboo and the consequences of breaking it. Upon finding out that drawing a person meant he would lose that person forever, Bogud attempted to correct his error on his spirit quest, hunting the strongest totemic animal, the elusive red deer. Unfortunately, the spirit of the red deer was not enough to keep Bogud and Fayau together. A warlord from another tribe saw Bogud's portrait of Fayau and decide he must have her for his own. The Tangad village was attacked and destroyed and most of the tribe killed. Fayau, already pregnant by Bogud, was taken by the warlord and has a daughter the warlord thinks is his own. Bogud followed unsuccessfully and was forced to turn back. Fayau and her daughter, along with the warlord's people, crossed the ice bridge to North America. At the end of the first portion of the book, Bogud, having gone back to the ruins of the Tangad village to help the last remaining tribal elder bury and mourn for the dead, set out to cross the Pacific Ocean in an unsuccessful attempt to reunite with his love.
In the middle portion of the book, Paradise, set in the late 1700s, Jones, an able seaman from Providence aboard the doomed whaling ship Philip Morgan meets Laia, a Polynesian girl from the island of Talofa. The two fall in love and Laia shows Jones the statute of a red deer that has been on the deerless island since as long as anyone can remember. Jones gets the image tattooed on his arm. The two marry and have a son. Unfortunately, their idyll is disrupted by the return of the psychotic captain of the Philip Morgan who is determined to enslave the islanders. Jones and Laia and others attempt to flee the island on a small boat during a tidal wave. It is not clear whether Jones and Laia are descendants of Bogud and Fayau or reincarnations of their spirits. Either way, the lovers are not successfully reunited.
In the last third of the book, The Desert, the lovers meet again in the form of a composer and a journalist. The composer has just written an epic symphony, entitled Beringia, named for the land bridge between Asia and America. The journalist is a big fan of his music, which speaks to her on a deep, emotional level. The composer is about to explore a cavern in Arizona in order to gain inspiration for a new piece commissioned by a religious mystic, and feeling a connection to the journalist, asks her to secretly follow him and mystic. Will the spirit of the red deer allow the lovers finally to reunite?
Although it was not entirely clear to me in the third section which character was meant to have the link to Bogud and which to Fayau, Suzuki does a good job of linking the three disparate sections of the book together and bringing them to an appropriate conclusion. Paradise should satisfy those readers who prefer their fantastic romances to be without elves or swords.