Synopses & Reviews
The critically acclaimed author of On the Narrow
and Women of the Pleasure Quarters
tells the enthralling true story of the woman who became the most celebrated geisha in Japan and the first to tour the United States and Europe.
At twenty-seven, she captivated the world's stage. The crowned heads of Europe vied for her favors. Picasso sketched her portrait. Puccini based the title character of Madame Butterfly on her and used one of her haunting melodies. Gide, Debussy, Degas, and Rodin were among her devoted fans. She was Sadayakko, Japan's most notorious geisha-and its first international superstar.
In this real-life Memoirs of a Geisha, Lesley Downer, journalist and author of Women of the Pleasure Quarters, hailed as "artfully intelligent... compelling...comprehensive and illuminating" (The Associated Press), re-creates the life and times of this extraordinary woman and cultural icon. Sadayakko's adventures and travels lift the veil on the secretive world of the geisha and are told against the backdrop of the beguiling era when Japan and the West were meeting for the first time.
Drawing from meetings with Sadayakko's family members, including her granddaughter, who granted rare access, and others who knew her intimately, this noted geisha expert chronicles the pivotal moments of Sadayakko's dramatic life. As an exquisite young geisha, her virginity was sold for an exorbitant amount to Japan's most powerful man, the prime minister. She shocked the Tokyo geisha world when she left her lucrative career to become the wife of the rebellious-and penniless-actor and political maverick Otojiro Kawakami. He took her to the United States, where posters and crowds hailed her arrival, and to Europe, where she became the toast of Paris, a muse to writers and artists, and an influence on women's fashion.
Madame Sadayakko tells the story of an unlikely rebel who carved out her own path, and reveals a missing piece of history from the turn of the last century, when Japanese women were wearing bustles and learning the waltz and European women were wearing Sadayakko kimonos.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 303-308) and index.
About the Author
Lesley Downer is the author of On the Narrow Road, which was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year Award; The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japan's Richest Family, chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of 1995; and the highly acclaimed Women of the Pleasure Quarters. Ms. Downer is also a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.