Geishas, Wives, and Concubines

Intrigued by the lives of women in the Far East? Try these tales spanning from the 11th century to the present day, featuring the professional geisha--trained in the arts of conversation, music, and dance for the entertainment of men, and the wives and concubines of the powerful and wealthy.

Imperial Woman

By Pearl S. Buck

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"...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."
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Waiting

By Ha Jin

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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.
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The Tent of Orange Mist

By Paul West

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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.
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The Ginger Tree

By Oswald Wynd

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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.

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The Binding Chair, or, A Visit From the Foot Emancipation Society

By Kathryn Harrison

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"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..."
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Tale of Murasaki

By Liza Dalby

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"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."

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Snow Country

By Yasunari Kawabata

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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.

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Shogun

By James Clavell

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"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..."

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Raise the Red Lantern

By T'ung Su

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"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.

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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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