Geishas, Wives, and Concubines

Sayo Masuda
Masuda is 78 now. When she was 12, she was sold to a geisha house in the hot springs resort of Suwa. Her memoir, first written in 1956-57, has none of the glamour or intrigue of other recent accounts of geishas, and is subtitled Half a Lifetime of Pain and Struggle.
Anchee Min
"Madame Mao is almost universally known as the "white-boned demon" -- ambitious, vindictive, and cruel -- whose bid to succeed her husband led to the death of millions. But Min's story begins with a young girl named Yunhe, the unwanted daughter of a concubine who ignored her mother's pleas and refused to have her feet bound. It was the first act of rebellion for this headstrong, beautiful, and charismatic girl. She later fled the miseries of her family life, first to a provincial opera troupe, then to Shanghai and fame as an actress, and finally to the arid, mountainous regions of Yenan, where she fell in love with and married Mao Zedong. The great revolutionary leader proved to be an inattentive husband with a voracious appetite for infidelity, but the couple stayed together through the Communist victory, the disastrous Great Leap Forward, and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution."
Leslie Li
"...tells the life story of Li Xuewen, wife of the first democratically elected vice president of China, who began her life as the unwanted fourth daughter of a peasant farmer and rose in prestige and fortune to become the number one wife of a brilliant military hero. Her story reveals a scope of history and changes in Chinese culture that few Westerners have glimpsed. Inspired by the events of her grandmother's life, the author engages the reader in an engrossing novel about love and war, and the indomitable spirit of a woman determined to keep her family and self-respect intact."
Takashi Matsuoka
Set amid the violence and beauty of 19th century Japan, Matsuoka takes readers beyond the epic tradition of James Clavell's "Shogun" and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters.
Nora Okja Keller

Set in the aftermath of the Korean War, Fox Girl is the story of its forgotten victims, the abandoned children of American GIs who live in a world where life is about survival.

Jodi Cobb
Jodi Cobb is a staff photographer at National Geographic who has produced more than twenty articles for the magazine. Her work has appeared in many books, including several in the A Day in the Life of . . . series. She was the first woman named White House Photographer of the Year and has been the recipient of numerous awards from the National Press Photographers Association. Ms. Cobb's photographs have been exhibited at the International Center of Photography and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Here, she takes on the elusive world of the geisha.
Pearl S. Buck
"...the fictionalized biography of the last Empress in China, Ci-xi, who began as a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor and on his death became the de facto head of the Qing Dynasty until her death in 1908.Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rulers during a time of intense turbulence.Tzu Hsi was born into one of the lowly ranks of the Imperial dynasty. According to custom, she moved to the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen to become one of hundreds of concubines. But her singular beauty and powers of manipulation quickly moved her into the position of Second Consort.Tzu Hsi was feared and hated by many in the court, but adored by the people. The Empress's rise to power (even during her husband's life) parallels the story of China's transition from the ancient to the modern way."
Elizabeth Kata
A Japanese family saga begins in 1853, the year trade opened to the West, and follows three generations of Japanese as they struggle to balance their tradition with the influx of Western culture.
Arthur Golden

"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."

James Gordon Bennett

"This fresh, poignant first novel features two siblings who will capture readers's hearts in the manner of Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Army brats Teddy and Cora are constantly on the move from base to base with their warring parents. With their edgy intelligence and precocious charm, this duo jumps off the page and pulls readers into their hearts."

Anchee Min
In the small southern town of Chin-kiang, in the last days of the nineteenth century, young Willow and young Pearl S. Buck, the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries, bump heads and embark on a friendship that will sustain both of them through one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history.
T'ung Su

"The brutal realities of the dark places Su Tong depicts in this collection of novellas set in 1930s provincial China -- worlds of prostitution, poverty, and drug addiction -- belie his prose of stunning and simple beauty. The title novella, 'Raise the Red Lantern,' which became a critically acclaimed film, tells the story of Lotus, a young woman whose father's suicide forces her to become the concubine of a wealthy merchant. Crushed by loneliness, despair, and cruel treatment, Lotus finds her descent into insanity both a weapon and a refuge.


'Nineteen Thirty-Four Escapes; is an account of a family's struggles during one momentous year; plagued by disease, death, and the shady promise of life in a larger town, the family slowly disintegrates.

Finally, 'Opium Family' details the last years of a landowning clan whose demise is brought about by corruption, lust, and treachery -- fruits of the insidious crop they harvest.


Richard Setlowe
"Attorney Peter Saxon arrives in Tokyo to secretly negotiate an historic merger between a Japanese electronics giant and an American movie and media conglomerate, a multibillion-dollar marriage that will dominate communications in the next century. But before the talks even begin, the government official with whom he is to meet is gruesomely murdered and mutilated. Then Saxon himself becomes the target of strange, vicious attacks.

"Searching for answers and trapped by a wall of polite, steeled silence, Saxon is forced to probe the heartwrenching memories of his youth--the shards of a past that neither time nor distance have buried. As a young Navy pilot operating from Japan during the Vietnam War, Saxon became passionately involved with a Japanese nightclub hostess named Lilli, an enchanting young woman with a dark, painful past. Their relationship created numerous enemies."

Laura Joh Rowland
"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..."

James Clavell

"A bold English adventurer. An invincible Japanese warlord. A beautiful woman torn between two ways of life, two ways of love. All brought together in an extraordinary saga of a time and a place aflame with conflict, passion, ambition, lust, and the struggle for power..."


"Shu Wen and her husband had been married for only a few months in the 1950s when he joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two countries. Shortly after he left she was notified that he had been killed, although no details were given. Determined to find the truth, Shu Wen joined a militia unit going to the Tibetan north, where she soon was separated from the regiment.

"Without supplies and knowledge of the language, she wandered, trying to find her way until, on the brink of death, she was rescued by a family of nomads under whose protection she moved from place to place with the seasons and eventually came to discover the details of her husband’s death. … Xinran has recreated Shu Wen’s journey, writing beautifully and simply of the silence and the emptiness in which Shu Wen was enveloped. The book is an extraordinary portrait of a woman and a land, each at the mercy of fate and politics. It is an unforgettable, ultimately uplifting tale of love loss, loyalty, and survival."

Yasunari Kawabata

Follows the story of a tragic affair between a wealthy dilettante and a mountain geisha who gives herself to him without illusions or regrets, in a tale of wasted love by the Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author.

Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "old same," in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The two women exchange messages written on silk fans and handkerchieves using nu shu, a unique language that women created in order to communicate in secret, sharing their experiences, but when a misunderstanding arises, their friendship threatens to tear apart.

Bette Bao Lord
"At a time of mystery and cruelty ... in an ancient land of breathtaking beauty and exotic surprise ... a courageous woman triumphs over her world's ultimate tragedy. Behind the garden walls of the House of Chang, pampered daughter Spring Moon is born into luxury and privilege. But the tempests of change sweep her into a new world -- one of hardship, turmoil, and heartbreak, one that threatens to destroy her husband, her family, and her darkest secret love. Through a tumultuous lifetime, Spring Moon must cling to her honor, to the memory of a time gone by, and to a destiny, foretold at her birth, that has yet to be fulfilled."
Liza Dalby

"Out of the life and work of Lady Murasaki, the author of, the world's first novel,The Tale of Genji, Liza Dalby has woven an exquisite and irresistible fiction that with rich, nuanced authenticity and lyrical drama, brings an elaborate past world to vivid life. The sensitive and modest daughter of a mid-ranking court poet, Murasaki Shikibu staves off loneliness with her active imagination, telling stories about the dashing Prince Genji to her close friends. At first, they are their private entertainment, but soon Genji's amorous adventures are leaked to the public and Murasaki is thrust into the life of a kind of 11th century Japanese celebrity. She is compelled by a charismatic regent to accept a position at court regaling the empress with her stories. At court, Lady Murasaki becomes caught in a vortex of high politics and sexual intrigue, which begins to reflect itself in her stories."

Kathryn Harrison
"Set in alluring Shanghai at the turn of the century,The Binding Chairintertwines the destinies of a Chinese woman determined to forget her past and a Western girl focused on the promises of the future. Beautiful, charismatic, destructive, May escapes an arranged marriage in rural nineteenth-century China for life in a Shanghai brothel, where she meets Arthur, an Australian ... a member of the Foot Emancipation Society..."
Oswald Wynd

In 1903, a 20-year-old Scots girl sails to China to marry a British attache, but soon horrifies the British community by having an affair with a young Japanese count.

Amy Tan

In 1949 four Chinese women drawn together by the shadow of their past begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and 'say' stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club.

On Film:
Originally released in 1993,this film adaptation is full of vibrant characters.

Geiling Yan
An erotic tale of forbidden love between a Chinese prostitute and a Caucasian boy in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

"...a sweeping novel about three characters in medieval Japan: Lord Norimasa, whose highest love is to reunify his country and restore peace; Lady Utsu, one of the supreme poetic geniuses of her time, as famous for her cruelty as for her beauty; and Matsuhito, a samurai who apprentices himself to Lord Norimasa. When Matsuhito and Lady Utsu fall hopelessly in love, the lives of these three are forever changed. Separated for years by warfare, Matsuhito and Lady Utsu reunite but their joy is shadowed by the cruelties and the caprices of passing time."

Paul West
In December 1937, the city of Nanking, China, falls to brutal Japanese invaders. Thus begins a compelling drama wherein the teenaged daughter of an eminent scholar is forced to work as a prostitute.
Ha Jin
An ambitious and dedicated Chinese doctor, Lin Kong, finds himself torn between two very different women -- the educated and dynamic nurse with whom he has fallen in love, and the traditional, meek, and humble woman to whom his family married him when they were both very young.