THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM by Beate Sirota Gordon


A Memoir
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 Gordons memoir fails to convey the passion and excitement of her extraordinary life. As the only daughter of world-famous Russian pianist Leo Sirota, from a young age Gordon was launched on a brilliant cosmopolitan trajectory. Her earliest experiences of Europe's reigning cities and a flashing cultural elite promised the girl a heady future. According to her, however, the most important aspect of Gordon's youth was her extensive expatriate stint in Japan, where her family fled shortly before WW II, alarmed by mounting European anti-Semitism. Although she left for the US during the war, Gordon returned to Japan once WW II had ended, working as a civilian in General MacArthur's Tokyo office and assisting with the writing of the Japanese constitution, which laid the framework for postwar life in that nation. She was mandated to research and draw up the part of the constitution which altered the status of women in a society where, until then, none had ever enjoyed a bona fide legal status. The constitution also ensured education for all people in a country that in some respects remained fundamentally feudal. Gordon ably conveys the historic significance of her undertaking, while giving short shrift to personal insights. Her style hides the writer from us, muffling the excitements of her intercontinental, multi-lingual rovings. The book is also hampered by Gordon's disconcerting decision to tilt forward and backward in time, creating an uncomfortable distance between the then and the now of her story. When she took up residence in New York in 1947, Gordon by no means abandoned her unusual cultural expertise and training. Instead, she assumed a leading role in bringing the arts of Asia to an American audience and traveled, consorting with emperors, gurus, and koto players. Too bad her tale largely fails to take leave of the page. (36 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 4-7700-2145-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998