The Snow Fox

Written by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Schaeffer was inspired by the film “The Seven Samurai” to research medieval Japan, according to her web site. This book is one of the fruits of that research. Her main character, Lady Utsu, is based on a legendary woman poet, Ono No Komachi, who was also cruel to her lovers.

At the command of her protector, Lord Norimasa, Lady Utsu feeds one lover finely ground glass, hidden in a sumptuous feast. A second freezes to death while trying to complete a hundred-day test she demands of him. Yet despite her reputation, the samurai Matsuhito falls in love with her, and begets a child. The lovers are separated as Matsuhito follows Lord Norimasa to war. Lady Utsu exiles herself from the court and disappears.

Years later, Matsuhito is a lordless samurai. During his wanderings, he adopts a young fox, which, when he becomes ill, helps him find shelter in the hut of a lady hermit. Although she conceals her identity at first, it is Lady Utsu, who has also adopted a fox. But living among the glories of nature in the Japanese wilderness does not bring them peace.

Schaeffer makes liberal use of flashbacks and fantasy sequences, and there is a brief frame tale by the daughter Utsu gave up at birth. The book takes some concentration, but the persistent reader will be rewarded with a rich fabric of Japanese life. The author learned Japanese to aid in her research and to understand the Japanese mind-set. The result is a believable novel that will expose Western readers to the beauty and cruelty of medieval Japan.