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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto…
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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto (edition 1992)

by Pico Iyer

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378828,549 (3.66)4
Member:juanakennedy
Title:The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
Authors:Pico Iyer
Info:Vintage (1992), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:
Tags:Japan, travel

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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Much of what passes as travel writing is an exercise in ego, the world experienced and conveyed through the author's eye and pen. But here, and if it is deceit it is an almost perfect one, the author is off-centre. Saying more is less, a delicate tale of love, zen and passing time. ( )
  nandadevi | Feb 10, 2015 |
I’ve enjoyed Pico Iyer’s essays for a while now, particularly an essay he wrote in 2012, about his love for long sentences (and, broadly, also for literature). Possibly, I feel a strange kinship since Iyer is originally Indian, although he now lives in Japan, and is probably the most truly ‘global’ citizen I can think of. I’ve never actually read one of his books, so when I found one last year in a secondhand bookstore, I figured it was a sign and picked it up.

The Lady and the Monk is Iyer’s third book, following a collection of essays, and a travelogue about his journey to Nepal. The Lady and the Monk is also, in a sense, a travelogue: it is about a year Iyer spent in Japan, writing for TIME magazine, exploring Zen Buddhism and falling in love. Iyer describes himself as young and perhaps, a little idealistic – he goes to Japan after reading spare, stark Japanese poetry, carrying minimal belongings but taking his copy of Thoreau. Like many Americans seeking ‘mystical wisdom’ from the East, Iyer attends led meditation in monasteries, meets with monks, and studies Japanese: not just the language, but also the art, the culture, and the people.

He is saved from becoming a precious Orientalist by his self-awareness, portrayed both through his descriptions of his own journey, but also of the other tourists who come through Japan, and the monks who talk about temporary visitors. Iyer also meets and falls in love with the eponymous ‘Lady’ – a married Japanese woman who introduces him to life around Japan – restaurants, food, traditions. More than that, she sees him as a guide to Western culture, which she loves. With a husband away at work and uninterested in her, she is trying hard to break out of the confines that her society dictates. Iyer is intensely sympathetic to the journey of a woman who wants, above all, autonomy, but finds herself strangely resigned to having it as just a dream. Although the book ends with Iyer leaving Japan (alone), I discovered later through the internet (glorious web) that Iyer eventually married her (or the woman that the book was based on), and they settled in Japan. More important, the book ends with her search for autonomy moving forward, and Iyer gracefully refusing to diminish that narrative by making it his own story instead of hers.

I really enjoyed The Lady and the Monk. Iyer has a gift for phrase and picture; as with the best authors, he shows, instead of telling, as far as he can. The book itself is divided into four seasons spent in Japan, and the turn of the seasons are drawn in to demonstrate how his relationship with the lady changes, as he himself changes. It’s also a very dense book; Iyer actually did spend a year in Japan reading and learning about the country. Consequently, The Lady and the Monk is rich with academic and poetic references, gentle portraits of the nation’s history and its people. It is difficult, I am certain, to be an outsider in a country, and describe without being patronising or appropriating their culture, and for the most part, Iyer sustains this with a combination of evidently sincere fascination with Japan, tempered with wry self-awareness of his position as an outsider. Perhaps most remarkable is how Iyer writes of such an intensely personal experience (a solitary journey, falling in love) while remaining so very carefully impersonal with himself.

I’d recommend this book, particularly to those who have a yen for travel, or an interest in Japan, or simply for people who like the pleasure of well-constructed, spare prose (unlike my verbose reviews). It made me want to visit Japan, too, and led me to read some of the authors he recommends (Yasunari Kawabata, in particular) and I suppose that’s the highest compliment I can pay. ( )
4 vote reva8 | Feb 4, 2015 |
The allure and ultimately futile pursuit to obtain the core understanding of OTHER, on the part of a a travel writer and a married japanese woman ( )
  tuliene | Oct 9, 2010 |
Iyer moves to Kyoto, Japan to write. While there, he meets a young Japanese wife and mother, as anxious to practice her English as he was to practice his Japanese. Thus a relationship was born, between the two cultures. Fascinating book. ( )
  debnance | Jan 29, 2010 |
http://pixxiefishbooks.blogspot.com/2...

In the late 1980s, Pico Iyer came to Kyoto for a year, to try his hand at learning more about the Japanese culture. What he learns, and what any person who has spent a significant chunk of time in the country will likely corroborate, is that Japan is a country of contradictions, a country pushing relentlessly into the future while still holding particular ties to many of its traditional cultural and religious roots.

Iyer doesn't learn this by contemplating in front of a Zen rock garden, however. His guide turns out to be the most unlikely person, a petite, 20-something mother of two called Sachiko. She is small and superbly naive, but she dreams big, sharing her thoughts and ideas in her devil-may-care English.

This was quite a lovely book, though I sometimes found it strange and jarring to be reading it while in Japan. I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps it was that the Japan that I was reading about was all too much like the Japan in which I was actually living. While perhaps that seems strange, it isn't. Iyer's Japan is magical and mundane, steeped in culture and completely removed from the outside world at the same time. This is entirely too much like the Japan I know. If you've never been to Japan, Sachiko's character might seem overly precocious and naive, a cute character sketch from the late 1980s, but not possibly a real person...but once you come here, you realize that not much has changed, and people are really like this.

That aside, it was a great read and I recommend it to anyone who has the slightest interest in Japan. It's a nice, little romance, but can also be taken as much more.
  pixxiefish | Mar 17, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679738347, Paperback)

When Pico Iyer decided to go to Kyoto and live in a monastery, he did so to learn about Zen Buddhism from the inside, to get to know Kyoto, one of the loveliest old cities in the world, and to find out something about Japanese culture today -- not the world of businessmen and production lines, but the traditional world of changing seasons and the silence of temples, of the images woven through literature, of the lunar Japan that still lives on behind the rising sun of geopolitical power.

All this he did. And then he met Sachiko.

Vivacious, attractive, thoroughly educated, speaking English enthusiastically if eccentrically, the wife of a Japanese "salaryman" who seldom left the office before 10 P.M., Sachiko was as conversant with tea ceremony and classical Japanese literature as with rock music, Goethe, and Vivaldi. With the lightness of touch that made Video Night in Kathmandu so captivating, Pico Iyer fashions from their relationship a marvelously ironic yet heartfelt book that is at once a portrait of cross-cultural infatuation -- and misunderstanding -- and a delightfully fresh way of seeing both the old Japan and the very new.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:31 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

When Pico Iyer decided to go to Kyoto and live in a monastery, he did so to learn about Zen Buddhism from the inside, to get to know Kyoto, one of the loveliest old cities in the world, and to find out something about Japanese culture today?not the world of businessmen and production lines, but the traditional world of changing seasons and the silence of temples, of the images woven through literature, of the lunar Japan that still lives on behind the rising sun of geopolitical power. All this he did. And then he met Sachiko. Vivacious, attractive, thoroughly educated, speaking English enthusiastically if eccentrically, the wife of a Japanese ?salaryman? who seldom left the office before 10p.m., Sachiko was as conversant with tea ceremony and classical Japanese literature as with rock music, Goethe, and Vivaldi. With the lightness of touch that made Video Night in Kathmandu so captivating, Pico Iyer fashions from their relationship a marvelously ironic yet heartfelt book that is at once a portrait of cross-cultural infatuation?and misunderstanding?and a delightfully fresh way of seeing both the old Japan and the very new.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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