ARTE by Kei Ohkubo Episode One #Manga

Arte 1I learned that yesterday was World Book Day and when asked if I did anything to celebrate, I realised that I’d done something I’ve never done before in terms of reading, I finished my first Japanese Manga called ARTE, illustrated and written by Kei Ohkubo translated into French and set in Florence Italy!

My daughter never liked reading books when she was younger and seemed almost stressed out by the appearance of so many words on the page, it provoked some kind of anxiety and there was nothing I could do to encourage her.

One day she came home from school with a book in her hand and didn’t stop to look up and continued to her bedroom to read. I was fascinated, what was this book that got her reading and why was she reading it back to front?

It was a Japanese manga and although it was translated into French, they still published them with the front cover on the back and you must read and turn the pages from right to left, from the back to the front – I am sure this is an excellent brain exercise!

Arte, was the first volume I chose, I wanted to read one myself, though not the genre my daughter reads (and creates – she’s created more than one of her own series preferring storytelling through drawing and dialogue), which has more of a gothic orientation.

I also chose it to show her some images of Italy through storytelling and to reinforce why it is a beautiful language to learn (she started the school year late and there were no more places in Spanish class, so she has been forced to learn Italian).

So reading a new genre that immerses itself into another culture, reading it in another language seemed like a fun way to celebrate World Book Day. And not to mention it has a fabulous, feisty, young woman protagonist, just the thing for an adolescent girl and her mother to read!

Arte lives in Florence at the beginning of the 16th century and dreams of becoming a painter, a wish indulged when her father was still alive, but scorned by her mother after he dies, a young woman must marry to ensure the continued protection and support of the family, her passions were secondary, not deemed important.

arte Ohkubo

Arte rebels against this idea and with determination visits the city’s ateliers in search of an apprenticeship, only to be laughed at and scorned by the community, until one young artisan offers her a challenge, he thinks she won’t achieve, and then must fulfil his promise to let her become his apprentice. Although she is of noble birth and he of humble origin, he discovers they share a common motivation to want to pursue art in their lives.

Eventually he takes her to meet a client, one whom he often makes a portrait of. The client wishes Arte to paint the portrait, thus life begins to change for Arte!

Although the story appears to show painting as a domain for men and Arte a young feminist, wanting equally to indulge her passion and develop her skill, it appears Arte did have contemporaries in the Renaissance period, they were rare indeed and faced numerous challenges.  Four of these women (there were more) produced the stunning self portraits below as well as other great works and were encouraged in their chosen metier.

The book shows the challenge also between young and old, between youthful idealism and middle age fear, the daughter unafraid to pursue her dreams, life has yet to disappoint her greatly, she believes in her own determination, while the mother has lost her protector and her chance to change her own life, so wishes to use the daughter to allay her own fears, to protect her from disappointment, even if at the expense of destroying her spirit.

Further Reading

Female painters from the Italian Renaissance period

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi (Rome 1593 – Naples 1652)

Liviana Fontana (Bologne 1552 – Rome 1614)

Sofonisba Anguissola (Crémone 1535 – Palerme 1625)

Elisabetta Sirani (Bologne 1638 – 1665)


17 thoughts on “ARTE by Kei Ohkubo Episode One #Manga

  1. Claire, I am so glad that the right book found your daughter. I am reminded of what Gabrielle Zevin wrote in ‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ — “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.” 

    I love how beautifully, and thoughtfully you choose your next books. Usually, after I finish reading your reviews, I visit your Goodreads profile to find out your next read, and it would again sound like a great book. Thank you for inspiring me. When I grow up, I want to choose books like you. 🙂

    One of my good friends shared enthusiastic review about Manga. I promised her that I would read soon. Maybe, I will start with Arte.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are too kind Deepika! 🙂 I love the meandering reading journey and after the very immersive and haunting work of Han Kang, this was a wonderful antidote. But I did read it in French! I don’t think it has been translated into English, the manga is really popular in France, as is their own “bande dessinée” or BD form, not exactly what we would refer to as comics as they are written for a more mature audience, not just for children. It’s an easy read though, so if you have basic French you could read it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t read anything besides English, and Tamil (my mother tongue), Claire. I noticed that your book’s in French. But I thought it might be available in English too. If not, then I must find out what is available in English.

        By the way, it is such a fascinating thing to read something different on World Book Day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This isn’t a genre I typically read, but it does sound wonderful Claire! I’ve always liked the Gentileschi portrait, you’ve made me realise I’ve not thought enough about what the subject of it is on a wider scale.

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  3. Wonderful review, Claire. I loved the theme of a book – a young woman wanting to become a painter in Renaissance Italy, when women found it nearly impossible to this men-dominated field. It makes me think of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s ‘Yentl’ (and the movie based on the story starring Barbara Streisand – have you seen it or read the book?) which had a similar theme – in that story the young woman who lost her parents wants to pursue education and she does some interesting things to achieve that. I love Manga and so it is so wonderful that this book is a Manga comic. I love the back-to-front reading in a Manga comic. I remember the first time when I tried reading it like a normal book, the first page said ‘Tomare! Stop! You are reading the book the wrong way!’ 🙂 Thanks for reviewing this book, Claire. I hope to read it one of these days.

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  4. I like that you read outside of your comfort zone and found something new to enjoy. I sometimes get stuck in a rut with my reading but then it happens, I find some new author or book unlike my norm, and then I take flight. I recently read Seven Sisters, not something I would typically pick up but the author took me in and I enjoyed it far more than I expected. Great review, Claire.

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  5. I think I’m going to have to give this genre another go. When I was in France I couldn’t be doing with their love for BD – and I still can’t really. I can’t do words and pictures at the same time – it’s too complicated. But this one looks as if it might be a bit different.

    By the way, I’ve just bought ‘Human Acts’.


    • I admit I did find it a bit of a brain exercise to read and take in the graphics and to read from right to left, a bit like those ‘luminosity’ brain exercises, I’ve never been enticed to read the BD’s although I see them in the library all the time, they get front row status, whilst the novels are at the back of the room!

      Good luck with Human Acts, I’m thinking I might read her previous novel too, The Vegetarian, sounds intriguing, although I can’t imagine anything comparing to Human Acts.


  6. The illustrations in this book are beautiful – they make me want to give one of these books a try! I love that you and your daughter have a bookish way to connect, and that she was able to find something she loves. My son is the same way about reading – if it doesn’t have pictures, he won’t read it. But he will read some graphic novels.


    • Good to know there is another parent that understands, especially another booklover. I go all quiet when I hear people criticising manga and bande dessinée, I’m just so relieved that she finally started reading, I don’t care what it is, and that it inspired her to start creating her own, which all her friends want to read, well I’m encouraging that too, maybe I’ll have to review her latest when it’s finished! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Must-read Monthly Monday (Jun. ’20 ed.) – The Animanga Spellbook

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