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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Art, Japan, and Just Some Really Good Reads

A recommended reading list by the author of The Art of Vanishing

Book Cover The Art of Vanishing

Lynn Kutsukake's new novel, The Art of Vanishing, is up for giveaway until the end of June.

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Set in Japan in the 1970s, my novel The Art of Vanishing is about a complicated friendship between two young women who yearn to become artists: one an illustrator, the other a portrait painter. For anyone with dreams of becoming an artist of any kind—visual, literary, musical, dramatic—it’s common to experience a complex stew of emotions. Feelings swing from confidence and ambition to self-doubt and insecurity, and everything in between. How do you know if you have any talent? What is real creativity? Who gets to call themselves an artist? I suppose these were some of the questions I was posing to myself during the long writing process, so it was natural I would project them onto my characters.

I’m fascinated by the intersection of different artforms and found myself thinking about the relationship between visual art and written story. Sometimes the best way to expand the way you approach your own artform is to examine a different kind of art. 

My recommended reading list consists of favourite books that inspired and sustained me during the time before, during and after I completed my manuscript. If you’re interested in art or in Japan or just in a good read, please give them a try. 

Book Cover Late Breaking

Late Breaking, by K.D. Miller

Each story in this remarkable collection is inspired by a different painting by renowned Canadian artist Alex Colville. Miller enters into a kind of daring conversation with these artworks: these are not one-to-one correspondences but boldly imagined stories filled with drama, irony, humour and characters that are alive and very real. Each short story in the collection is preceded by a small reproduction of the painting that inspired it, and it’s fascinating to see how far and wide Miller’s imagination ranged. Colville’s paintings are filled with a sense of mystery and the uncanny, and the same can be said for the stories in Late Breaking


Book Cover All the Colour in the World

All the Colour in the World, by C.S. Richardson

Richardson has an elegant, elliptical style, as unique as a personal signature. The life of his protagonist Henry is revealed in lightning flashes of memory and insight, like quick brushstrokes on a canvas. These recollections of joy and pain build with increasing emotional intensity throughout the novel. I was surprised and delighted that at the very outset, the narrator refers to the Japanese court lady Sei Shonagon and to the fragmentary zuihitsu style of writing. The word zuihitsu literally means “to follow the brush.” This strikes me as so apt. All the Colour in the World is a work I know I will come back to over and over to seek the beauty in the words and to follow the fluid arc of the author’s literary brush. 


Book Cover Birds ARt Life

Birds, Art, Life, by Kyo Maclear

This is one of the most gentle and honest books about creativity that I have ever read. It’s about how creativity intersects with every aspect of life, and about how to learn to be open to the world around you. It’s about process, and how the patience required to watch the most ordinary of birds is the same quiet patience that is needed to nurture and heal the soul. It is also the way into the heart of an artist. To spend time with this book is a gift to oneself. This is a meditation on creativity which is also a meditation on the most important things in life.


Book Cover Washington Black

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

Among the many things to admire about this marvellous novel, I was particularly taken by Edugyan’s decision to give her protagonist Washington Black a natural talent for drawing. When Wash first sees his master Titch quickly sketch a picture on a piece of paper, he suddenly realizes that this is something he desperately wants to do himself. In just a few short lines, Edugyan shows how a creative flame is ignited and how it cannot be extinguished. There are some early scenes in which Wash draws in secret on scraps of paper with the nub of a pencil and then immediately burns the paper so he will not be caught. As a slave, he fears for his life, yet he cannot repress his urge to create. These scenes made my heart ache, and whenever I think about young Wash, I feel heartened by his courage. 


Book Cover One Million Hearts

One Hundred Million Hearts, by Kerri Sakamoto 

Art plays an important role in Sakamoto’s novel of self-discovery. After her beloved father’s sudden death, Miyo, a Japanese Canadian sansei born in Toronto, discovers a very dark secret: she has a sister named Hana who she never knew about and who her father had left behind in Japan after the war ended. Miyo goes to Japan to meet Hana, who is an artist, and to find out more about the man who was father to both of them. Miyo soon realizes that to fully understand everything Hana is trying to tell her, she must learn to understand her art, for Hana’s messages of war trauma are conveyed through the language of art.


Book Cover The Face

The Face: a Time Code, by Ruth Ozeki

I am a big fan of Ozeki, whose novels A Tale for the Time Being and The Book of Form and Emptiness display a capacious imagination and a bold originality. But I would also like to recommend a short non-fiction work called The Face: a Time Code. This is an extended meditation on self and identity arising from the contemplation of her face. Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest, and she brings her Zen sensibility and personal history to bear in this philosophical and existential exercise. There are two other books in “The Face” series: one by Tash Aw (The Face: Strangers on a Pier) and the other by Chris Abani (The Face: Cartography of the Void). All three works are fascinating to me for how these writers contemplate identity and self through the face. In my own novel, these are themes I sought to tap into through my characters, for whom the face is a central focus. 


Book Cover STones

Stones, by Timothy Findley

Of all the stories in Findley’s wonderful short fiction collection Stones, my absolute favourite is “Foxes.” The protagonist, Morris Glendinning, is a legendary recluse and eccentric who frequents the Far Eastern Department of the Royal Ontario Museum. He has been given private access to view a recent acquisition of Japanese theatre masks, and it is the fox mask that exerts an uncanny pull on Glendinning until he cannot resist the urge to put it on. I remember when I first encountered this story over twenty years ago, how surprised I was to find this Japanese fox had made its way into the protagonist’s quintessentially Anglo-Canadian world. Foxes and masks and faces. It never ceases to amaze me how images and themes can captivate writers across cultures. 

Book Cover Roaming

Roaming, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

What better marriage between picture and word could there be than in the artform of the graphic novel. Roaming, the most recent collaboration between the Tamaki cousins, is about two young women, Zoe and Dani, who were best friends in high school but who now attend different colleges. They plan a reunion in New York City. But when one of them shows up with her pushy dorm roommate in tow, the twosome are forced to become an unexpected threesome, and friendship bonds are severely tested. This is a tender story about female friendship and the bonds we form when we are young. It’s about how you define yourself in part by your friends and how your friends help you become who you are. It’s also about how those bonds can endure and how they can change as you continue the process of becoming yourself. 


Book Cover The Art of Vanishing

Learn more about The Art of Vanishing: 

An intimate, explosive story of creativity and friendship between two young Japanese women in 1970s Tokyo.

Akemi’s desire for independence and aversion to marriage are unusual in her small village. A gift for drawing allows her to move to a rooming house in Tokyo where she studies medical illustration, finding satisfaction in the precision and purpose of her work. Sayako is the first roommate to pay Akemi attention, and they quickly become inseparable—Sayako drawn to Akemi’s humble origins, so distinct from her own insufferable, wealthy family; Akemi attracted to Sayako’s rebelliousness and her aspiration to be a painter.

As Akemi begins to model for Sayako, their connection deepens. Together, they attend ‘happenings,' encounters arranged by two enigmatic artists, Nezu and Kaori, in random locations, intended to free them from their worldly attachments. Following a devastating betrayal, Sayako disappears, and Akemi becomes determined to find her—and in the process, must newly face herself. 

Tender, enthralling, and evocative of the energy of Japan in the 1970s, The Art of Vanishing is the story of a young woman struggling to see and be seen; of authenticity and art; of the thin line between loyalty and obsession.

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