The Crane Wife Retold by Odds Bodkin, Illus. by Gennady Spirin, 1998.
The Crane Wife is yet another animal bride/bridegroom story where one spouse is given a simple rule to follow and she/he can't help breaking it, bringing about sorrow. Think of stories like "East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon," "Beauty and the Beast," the Selkie legends, and in a recent post "Urashima Taro." These restrictions are spelled out clearly: don't look at me during a forbidden time, don't speak of me to others, don't let me find my animal skin, don't open the box I've given you, and don't watch me at work!
In this case, the lonely sailmaker Osamu ruins his chance at happiness when he intentionally observes his wife as she is making a magical sail for him to sell. He watches her even though he has been explicitly asked not to, even though he knows that she makes these sails at a great personal cost. He is stupid, yet the reader can't help feeling empathy for his self-created trouble. He has not been a particularly cruel man, saving and nursing a crane harmed during an autumn storm. He seems to love his wife Yukiko. Yet, he can't keep his promise to her, allowing conceit, ambition and rationalization to overcome his better judgement.
|The injured crane|
I've already expressed my admiration for illustrator Gennedy Spirin in my post about the Russian folktale "The Firebird" here , and I continue to be impressed by the watercolor and gouache art in The Cranewife. Fortunately, Spirin mentions finding visual references from medieval Japan, so we know in what his art is grounded. He uses rich but subtle colors in his beautiful paintings and the spreads swirling with leaves, clouds and snow brings a mystical feel.