The Snow Fox

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer is noted for her vivid re-creations of past eras. Anya (1974) was set in Nazi-occupied Poland, and Buffalo Afternoon (1989), in wartime Vietnam. In The Snow Fox, Schaeffer takes her readers to medieval Japan and a culture as barbaric as it was brilliant.

In a hierarchical society strictly governed by custom, it might seem that there would be no room for private emotions. As the ward and favorite companion of the powerful Lord Norimasa, the beautiful Lady Utsu knows she must always obey his orders. Early in the novel, Norimasa tests Utsu’s loyalty by ordering her to kill her lover. His action is acceptable in a society where warlords set villages on fire to provide light for their night battles. However, from that time on, Utsu is known for her heartless cruelty.

Naturally, the court assumes that Utsu’s dalliance with the samurai Matsuhito is merely another palace amusement. The two are soon separated, for after Matsuhito goes off to battle, Utsu has to flee from the malice of Norimasa’s jealous wife. However, both Utsu and Matsuhito adopt little foxes, name them for their lovers, and cherish them as they do their memories. Decades later, the samurai travels north into the snow country, and there he finds his long-lost lady. There follows an idyllic period, the more precious because the lovers know it cannot last.

The Snow Fox is a complicated story, with several narrative voices and a structure that often ignores chronology. However, its evocation of a magnificent but brutal society in which, against all odds, a great love manages to survive makes The Snow Fox a truly unforgettable book.