Japanesque

A Town Where the Lights Are Blue

By William Saffell

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"The 'town' is Yokohama. John Sky is a Vietnam War veteran who takes up residence there during the early 1970s. Finding work playing piano in a small jazz club, he immerses himself in the seductive lifestyle of the water business, a modern version of the floating world--a traditional metaphor for life's transient nature. This is an after-hours world inhabited by the people who work in Japan's bars and nightspots. While wandering the streets of this intriguing and sometimes dangerous landscape, Sky meets two women who will change his life forever: Sayoko, a young cabaret hostess whose ethereal beauty and mercurial mood shifts mask a tragic secret, and Miyako, an aging water business woman who says as much with silence as with words."
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Across the Nightingale Floor

By Lian Hearn

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"...a story of a boy who is suddenly plucked from his life in a remote and peaceful village to find himself a pawn in a political scheme, filled with treacherous warlords, rivalry--and the intensity of first love. In a culture ruled by codes of honor and formal rituals, Takeo must look inside himself to discover the powers that will enable him to fulfill his destiny."

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Kangaroo Notebook

By Kobo Abe

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"In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan's most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. The narrator wakes one morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe's unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the very shores of hell. Abe has assembled a cast of oddities into a coherent novel, one imbued with unexpected meaning.”

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Memoirs of a Geisha

By Arthur Golden

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"Sayuri's story begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. Through her eyes, we see the decadent heart of Gion -- the geisha district of Kyoto -- with its marvelous teahouses and theaters, narrow back alleys, ornate temples, and artists' streets. And we witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it. But as World War II erupts and the geisha houses are forced to close, Sayuri, with little money and even less food, must reinvent herself all over again to find a rare kind of freedom on her own terms."

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Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries

By Bharti Kirchner

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"Sunya Malhotra, a young American woman whose parents had migrated from India, is the head baker and owner of Pastries, a warm and cozy bakery in Seattle. Sunya loves baking and has transformed her fabulous cakes and tarts into delicious works of art. The success of her beloved bakery is put in jeopardy, however, when a chain bakery threatens to open up down the street from her. To add to her misery, Roger, her hip, Japanese boyfriend has left her for a "perfect" Japanese girlfriend and her mother has just become engaged to a man Sunya detests. Sunya hasn't yet reconciled to the mystery of a father missing since her birth. Even a new relationship with a hot, young film director who is in town to cover the 1999 World Trade Conference, can't help Sunya with her biggest worry - she has lost her touch for baking.

"Overwhelmed, Sunya is surprised to find herself listening when her new Japanese baker offers her a solution to her problems - enroll in a baking school in Japan! Of course, this isn't just any baking school. It is run by a famous Japanese baker, Mori Matsumoto, and is based on the principle of mindfulness. Soon Sunya finds herself learning the basic skills of baking all over again. Is this what she needs to rediscover herself?"

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Shinju

By Laura Joh Rowland

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"When beautiful, wealthy Yukiko and low-born artist Noriyoshi are found drowned together in a shinju, or ritual double suicide, everyone believes the culprit was forbidden love. Everyone but newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichiro.

"Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects the deaths weren't just a tragedy -- they were murder. Risking his family's good name and his own life, Sano will search for a killer across every level of society -- determined to find answers to a mystery no one wants solved. No one but Sano..."

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Slatewiper

By Lewis Perdue

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Lara Blackwood, genetic engineering entrepreneur and presidential advisor, receives a call from an old college friend who asks her help in solving a ghastly epidemic in Tokyo. She agrees to help and, with a single phone call, sets in motion a chain of death and mayhem stretching from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., Amsterdam, and Japan. To her horror, she discovers her life's work has been perverted to produce a revolutionary new genetic weapon that kills by turning people's own chromosomes against them.
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Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

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"San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries--memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched."

Also available on audio.

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The Birth of Venus

By Sarah Dunant

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"Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family's Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter's abilities. But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra's parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man.

"Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola's reactionary followers."

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The Devil of Nanking

By Mo Hayder

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"...takes the reader on an electrifying literary ride from the palatial apartments of yakuza kingpins to deep inside the secret history of one of the twentieth century's most brutal events: the Nanking Massacre. A young Englishwoman obsessed with an indecipherable past, Grey comes to Tokyo seeking a lost piece of film footage of the notorious 1937 Nanking Massacre, footage some say never existed. Only one man can help Grey. A survivor of the massacre, he is now a visiting professor at a university in Tokyo. But he will have nothing to do with her. So Grey accepts a job in an upmarket nightspot, where a certain gangster may be the key to gaining the professor's trust."
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