The Snow Fox
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
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The Snow Fox

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
W.W. Norton
448 pages
February 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Susan Fromberg Schaeffer has painted an elegant, intricate portrait of 12th-century Japan, a world of noble lords, samurai and beautiful ladies whose faces are always hidden from view. The daughter of one of the palace women has written the love story of her mother, Lady Utsu, and Matsuhito, the samurai who can love no one else.

Ordered to guard Lady Utsu against attack in her palace quarters, the samurai is introduced to the secret chambers of the womenís world and enchanted by Lady Utsuís legendary beauty and accomplished poetry. The two become lovers, but neither admits the depth of their attachment to the other. Later, when a daughter is born, Lady Utsu sends the child away to be raised away from the court intrigues.

Both Lady Utsu and Matsuhito love Lord Norimasa for his fierce strength and cunning, but also because he inspires their loyalty. Matsuhito fights at Lord Norimasaís side for many years until the Lordís death. The samurai thinks to return and search for Lady Utsu, but she has fled the palace with only her pet fox for company. Fate seems to have decreed that the lovers go their separate ways.

In the following years, Matsuhito wanders north, toward the mountains and the snow which he has never seen. He acquires a horse and, later, a fox, and the three of them move up the mountains, content in each otherís company. On his journey, the samurai often thinks of the beautiful Lady Utsu, doubting that they will meet again in this life. He is content with his memories, but quietly yearns for the lady.

Finally, the samurai stumbles upon a hut in the snow occupied by a woman who lives alone. He is ill and she cares for him, telling endless fables to pass the long days of his recuperation. Sharing their secrets and dreams, reciting poetry, they realize that fate has given them another chance. In the quiet beauty of their mountain retreat, the lovers experience an affinity far more precious than the passion of their youth. Together they endure everything that comes their way, joy, intrigue, happiness and heartbreak. The author imbues her characters with the quality of myth, living as they do in splendid isolation, surrounded by natureís bounty and beauty.

But The Snow Fox is not a fairy tale. Rather, Schaeffer writes of the mature love of two people as they navigate the difficulties of daily life. Nothing lasts forever; time goes on and the lovers pass into memory. With haunting imagery, the authorís light-handed touch creates shimmering reflection of the past: the elegant palace of Lord Norimasa, the elaborate, multi-layered gowns, the ornate armor of the samurai and the simple beauty of the blossoming cherry trees. All is as carefully wrought as the intricate embroideries of Lady Utsu, or the sound of her voice as she whispers the tale of the four children.

© 2004 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book.

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