Avia Belle Moon is the pen name of a local author whose first novel, A Thousand Years of Love, is a historical romance set in Japan’s Heian Court at the dawn of the 11th century. The novel’s protagonist, Lady Kaishi (whose name means ‘Child of the Sea’) leaves the comfort of her aristocratic trappings in Kyoto and crosses the East China Sea to arrive in Hangzhou, China on a quest to locate the burial site of her mother from whom she was traumatically separated in early childhood. Moon’s novel — written in the tradition of actual Heian Period Japanese literary works like The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji — includes court intrigue, characters whose motives are not always initially clear, and the self-discovery and transformation of Lady Kaishi.
The author studied art history at UCSB before moving to Japan in 1991, where she lived for fifteen years. In addition to being a writer, she is also an avid supporter of nuclear abolition. I spoke to her recently about A Thousand Years of Love.
You have a book signing coming up — where is it and when is it?
It’s at Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito on August 9th from 2:30-4:30 pm. It will also be a celebration of Japanese culture. That date is actually the 62nd anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and I wanted to address this. Kyoto was one of the five possible targets considered by the American government for the atomic bombing at the end of World War II — but they ended up choosing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A Thousand Years of Love is set during the Heian period (794-1185 AD) around 1000 AD in ancient Kyoto — centuries before World War II. Nevertheless, we need to understand that history and art and culture can be destroyed at any moment, especially in our present age of weapons of mass destruction. So, August 9th is a highly significant date.
Avia Belle Moon is your penname:how did you decide upon that name?
It just came up. I guess it was sort of exotic sounding. Moon is very Asian, Belle means ‘Beautiful’ in French and Belardino is my last name, and I just liked the sound of Avia. I’m half-Japanese and half Italian-American. About four years after I graduated from UCSB, I decided to go to Japan and just ended up staying for fifteen years. I really loved it and just gradually learned the language there. I’m passionate about Asian languages.
How did your ideas for this novel germinate?
It was a lot of work — it took me about five years. It was a combination of researching English language academic information that scholars had written on the Heian period that I found in libraries throughout Japan as well as Japanese academic material in Japanese. I also used Japanese language children’s books on the Heian period. I couldn’t have written this book without a basic knowledge of Japanese, help with translations, and many visits to Kyoto in which I videotaped a lot of temples which are referenced in the novel. I tried to immerse myself in Japanese culture.
Going back to August 9th, you were interviewed by the BBC at one point regarding Japan, weren’t you?
I was interviewed with a group of Japanese women concerning Project Gen-which was about the manga or Japanese comic book Barefoot Gen, an eye-witness account of the atomic bombing of Japan. The author, Keiji Nakazawa, was actually a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima. I helped edit the English language translation of that manga. I was living in Kanazawa — which is right across from North Korea, separated by the Sea of Japan — and a lot of crazy stuff was going on at the time. North Korea was sending missiles into the Sea of Japan. Anyway, we were interviewed by a reporter from the BBC and it was later broadcast in Britain.
Were you influenced by any western writers who have written novels set in past centuries in Japan — James Clavell or anybody?
(laughs) ShÅgun? No, not really by any westerns who have written about Japan-but just by different writers:I love French literature, so I think I might have taken some French literary devices emphasizing sensuality and the senses:the touch of a kimono or the smell of incense:things like that.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Writing and living in Japan allowed me to engage in a process of self discovery on many levels. I hope to continue exploring my half Japanese heritage into the future, hoping that my journey will end in a place of peace and acceptance. I’m currently working on my second novel — a ghost story. The 21st century holds so much promise to truly be a ‘global village.’ I would like to create bonds of peace through arts and culture, utilizing them as our ‘weapons of mass construction.’
Avia Belle Moon will appear at Tecolote Book Shop on Saturday, August 9th from 2:30-4:30 to read from and sign copies of her novel: A Thousand Years of Love. The book is available at Tecolote, Chaucer’s Books, The Book Den, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Bookstore.