Crystal water world


This is a book that I long to keep with me all the time. The book is a novel about pearls and the East, especially an island off the coast of Japan. It is not an ordinary piece of fiction; it is a pure crystal of poetry, a lucent poem in some 400-prose pages on life, longing, and lure of livid life.

Like all good things in life I got the book by chance. At one of the book events, a friend just dropped it in the basket of my travels. The book is Three Views of the Crystal Water (Fourth Estate) by highly celebrated Canadian novelist, Katherine Govier. I started reading the book and kept reading it over and over for months.

This is the story of a young girl Vera, who has lost her mother and goes to live with her only living relative, her grandfather, James Lowinger and his Japanese mistress, Keiko. James, a traveller and a pearl merchant, introduces her to the history of pearls and spins fabulous stories of the East. However, one day when he abruptly dies, young Vera has no choice but to go to Japan with her Grandpa’s mistress, Keiko and learn the art of diving in an island where a humble human attempt to tame oysters and harvest pearls is being carried out.

There she befriends tough ama women divers and a sword maker, Ikkanshi, the one who becomes her secret friend and teacher. However, as the World War approaches, her father that Vera thought to be dead, comes back to take her to Canada as Japan is now an enemy.

What glued me to this novel? What made me read it repeatedly? The first factor was the immaculate prose, the pure poetry of it. It begins with a simple sentence, “So this is how it all began.”

And right after the narrator identifies herself with Vera: “Vera, bereaved, a slip of a girl stood in a slanting rainfall on the quay. The year was 1934 and she was 13. It was a romantic moment in what she hoped would be a romantic life, this little girl, who was me, but has now become, with perspective of 25 years, a stranger called Vera, was waiting for her grandfather.”

This is magical feat that the novelist accomplishes right in the first line. Here she gives her narrator absolute freedom to tell the grand tale of two continents, their generations and history, fantasy and fiction of human hunger and suffering humanity.

Was there an autobiographical factor? Was it because I too had lost my grandpa when I was Vera’s age? Was it because she is the ultimate wanderer that one would want to be one day?

In addition, she appeared a female David Copperfield depicted in pure lucid poetry. Also, because there are unmistakable Eastern links. The book possesses the concentration and spirituality of the Yoga and Zen moves.

The moves of martial arts divide the novel into chapters and sub-chapters. Govier studied martial arts and sword as an adult. Moreover, the central character Ikkanshi, the sword polisher, comes from her learning experience.

“I am a black belt in Kobudo (classical Japanese Martial arts with weapons),” revealed Govier to me, “I received it when I was 53. I am very proud of it.”

The sword polisher marks the novelist’s idea of craft and concentration, the design of “discipline and repetition and concentration that is Eastern.” “It helped me enormously,” discerns Govier. “‘Self’ would generally be regarded as distraction in martial arts. And sometimes fatal - if you think of yourself rather than art.”

Vera felt no hurry so she sat to rest her feet. There was ruined castle on the horizon. A winding road. The sound of a hidden creek, making its way down the hill. Otherwise, it was silent there, except for birdsong, and in the distance, when wind blew, the sound of the sea...

(The writer can be reached at