25 June 2021
Rights handled by New River:
Foreign rights excl. Asia
(Denmark, Italy, Poland, Taiwan, WEL)
The Island Where the Spider Lilies Bloom
by Li Kotomi
Winner of the 165th (2021) Akutagawa Prize
A girl lies on the beach of an unnamed island with injuries. Yona, a local girl, rescues her and uses the equinox flower, a flower that blooms on the island, to cure her injuries. Yona names the girl Umi. Umi has lost her memory. Through their not very smooth dialogues, they realise their languages are both similar and different. On the island, people speak a language called 'Nihon', but there is also another language 'Women's Language' that only women are allowed to acquire. Only women are allowed to study and re-tell history, and only women can be the leaders, 'Noro', of the island. 'Big Noro', the highest leader, allows Umi to stay but orders her to study 'Women's Language' alongside Yona. Meanwhile, Yona's friend, a boy called Tatsu, is secretly studying 'Women's Language'. Tatsu doesn't understand why men don't have equal rights as women. As the story unfolds, the dark history of the island is revealed; so is Umi's sad past in her homophobic home country and why the island becomes a matriarchal society.
A hopeful answer to The Memory Police and The Handmaid's Tale, with a setting reminiscent of Wonder Woman, Li Kotomi not only creates a vivid island but also powerfully addresses many urgent issues: male-dominance in the use of language and the teaching of history, LGBTQ equal rights, geo-politics in East Asia.
About the author
Born in Taiwan in 1989, Li Kotomi writes in both Japanese and Chinese. Her debut novel Solo Dance won the Gunzo New Writers' Prize in 2017. The Island Where the Spider Lilies Bloom is her fifth work and won the 165th Akutagawa Prize. She is the first Taiwanese winner, and the second non-native Japanese speaker, to have won the prize.