Judging from the advance reviews at Amazon, some readers seem to expect The Joy Luck Club, but for Japan, which is not at all the story they find.
The book is deeply preoccupied with girls, talent, and power. As Mockett has observed, talented women often fare badly in fiction. And yet Satomi, one of the main characters in Picking Bones from Ash, expects her creative virtuosity to ensure her independence. Her monologue opens the novel.
My mother always told me that there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably, and masterfully talented.
This is different from being intelligent or even educated. The latter, she insisted, could get a girl into trouble, convincing her that she has the same power as men. Certainly the biggest mistake a woman could make was to rely on her beauty. Such a woman is destined to grow old and ugly very quickly because she is so much more disappointed by what she sees in the mirror than someone who is busy. “But when you are talented,” she whispered to me late at night as we lay in our futons, “you are special. You will have troubles, but they won’t be any of the ordinary ones.”
For more Mockett, see the profile in the Columbia Spectator, her thoughts on talented girls, her book notes for Largehearted Boy, her advice for aspiring writers, her interview with Colson Whitehead, and her recipe for bamboo shoots. She also has a blog.