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Stranger in the Shogun’s City Reviews

Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley

Stranger in the Shogun's City

A Woman's Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Amy Stanley

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 16 Jul 2020
ISBN: 9781784742300

Immersive and gripping, Stranger in the Shogun's City is a revelatory work of history, layered with rich detail and delivered in beautiful prose, about the life of a woman, a city and a culture.

4 stars out of 5
7 Aug 2020

"A restless, shifting metropolis comes to life in this clever biography"

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For the reader familiar with Tokyo and Japan, the Edo portions of Stranger in the Shogun’s City contain a number of satisfying ambushes — moments where the early 19th-century behaviours have a striking resonance with modern Tokyo. The poorest residents of Edo, Stanley writes, wore clothes made of used paper which still bore the traces of writing. Their wealthy counterparts, dressing desperation up as urban glamour, “wore fine silk adorned with random scribbling”. Few western writers have managed to capture the DNA strands from this fabulously colourful moment of Tokyo’s past and weave them so adroitly into narrative.

Reviews

3 stars out of 5
Richard Lloyd Parry
23 Jul 2020

"From this unpromising material she has extracted a touching and accessible story"

It is grounded in the driest scholarship, the deciphering of 200-year old Japanese documents. From this unpromising material she has extracted a touching and accessible story about leaving the provinces for the thrilling loneliness of the big city, about making mistakes and making the same mistakes again, about divorce, poverty and underachievement, all of it set against the background of epochal historical change... Unfortunately for Stanley, her central character is not around to see any of this. Tsuneno’s death in 1853 at the age of 49 is conveyed so abruptly that it has no emotional impact. It is difficult to see that Stanley could have done more with the material at hand, but in the end all that we know about Tsuneno is not quite interesting enough to allow her to stand for her age.