Rocky Mountain News: Great debuts from 2004

In today's world, big names sell. So what becomes of first-time authors with stunning stories, but no marketable names to peddle? Often, their books quickly fade away, making barely a ripple in the publishing ocean. The losers, of course, are readers, who miss out on stories of unquestionable merit. The Painting By Nina Schuyler (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 320 pages, $23.95). Plot in a nutshell: A young Japanese woman paints the memories of her lost lover and then wraps the painting around one of her husband's ceramic bowls bound for Europe. The painting is discovered by a young soldier-turned-clerk disabled in the 19th-century war between France and Prussia. The painting's glowing life and beauty completely transform his bleak existence. Sample of prose: "He sets the painting on the bed and lights another lantern. His heart beats faster. There is the green of the hill and her lacquer black hair, her ivory complexion and the shading on her face. So much more vibrant than the last time he looked. A wonderful spring day, look at the yellow flowers all around them, it must have just rained, everything shiny and full color."

Author reminds me of: Kawabata Yasunari with her intriguing view of reality, ability to depict the almost insurmountable emotional distances between women and men and her use of nature to complement human actions and emotions.

Best reason to read: For Schuyler's stylistic versatility. The author's richly imagined Japanese sections resemble Japanese art with their delicate strokes and her darker rendering of the wounded soldier's story would do Dostoevsky proud.