Welcome back to the book club! This month we're discussing Dendera by Yuya Sato, a Japanese novel recently translated into English. Beware, for spoilers are ahead!
The reason I picked this book is that the premise looked so intriguing. Kayu Saitoh has lived for 70 years in the Village. Per tradition, the winter after she reaches this age, her son must carry her up the Mountain and leave her there. She and everyone else is told that, in this way, they will reach Paradise after they die. Kayu Saitoh accepts this and is ready to die. But before that happens she is rescued and brought to Dendera, a small village on the other side of the mountain where other women who climbed the Mountain have come to live out the rest of their lives. Shortly after she arrives, Dendera is attacked by a mother bear, who returns again and again to terrorize them.
The thing I didn't expect with this novel was a protagonist that did not at all appreciate what the women of Dendera did in saving her. Kayu Saitoh wanted to go up the Mountain. She truly believed that by doing so she would go to Paradise. By saving her from death, Dendera has denied her that, and denied her Paradise for all time (that's what she thinks, at any rate). The other women in Dendera express surprise, shock, anger, and disbelief that Kayu Saitoh really thought she was going to Paradise and that she's not happy to still be alive. Most of them are pleased and grateful and assume that all of them feel the same.
I liked that Mei Mitsuya, the founder and leader of Dendera, was somewhat unhinged. She's over a hundred years old and super angry, cranky, and not having any of Kayu Saitoh's moping. I love that when Kayu asks about the men who also go up the Mountain, Mei says "I'll never allow a man in this place. Never!" I admit, I whispered You Go Girl when I read that.
I never felt I connected well with any of the women in Dendera. Even the ones that got more focus and fleshed out into real people never engaged me. Kayu Saitoh at least has an interesting personal arc. She's a woman who never questioned the status quo, didn't do much thinking for herself, and lived a life of hardship without complaint. In Dendera she actually has to consider new ideas, to work out for herself how to live and respond to things, and to question her previous life and views. Though I never found myself sympathetic toward her, I did like that she did not immediately (or really ever) give in to the ideas and ideals of the other women. She remained herself, even as she experienced growth.
In a couple of places I've seen this book compared to Stephen King's works. There are no supernatural happenings here, the horror all comes from the multiple bear attacks. But where the King comparison seems most apt is to Cujo. There you have no supernatural goings on, it's just the horror of a woman trapped in a car with her little boy while a rabid dog intent on killing them lurks outside. The most vivid chapters in that book come from the point of view of the dog, which I thought was pretty cool when I read the book in my teens.
In Dendera we also get chapters from the POV of an animal: the bear. I didn't feel quite as charitable towards these chapters as I did with Cujo, but I will say that Yuya Sato got many things right. There's just this fine line between anthropomorphizing an animal and truly getting into an animal's mindset. I'd say it was successful sometimes but not often.
I'm very interested in how readers felt about the ending. It's not exactly open-ended, but we don't know exactly how things turn out. Did you find that frustrating? Satisfying?
Did you connect with Kayu Saitoh?
Let us know your impressions of Dendera in the comments.
Next Month's xoBookClub Pick Is:
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
A reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan.
Jo, the firstborn, "The General" to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.
The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself.
As you read, let everyone know your impressions by using the #xoBookClub hashtag.