An extraordinary, elegantly told story of the beginning of Japan’s education and emancipation of its women.




Through her fascinating tapestry of history and biography, New York scholar Nimura weaves the strange, vibrant tale of an insular nation coming to terms with currents of modernism it could no longer keep out.

With the shogunate abolished and the “restoration” of 15-year-old Emperor Mutsuhito to the Meiji throne in 1868, Japan recognized that it would need to embrace Western ideas and technology in order to compete in the civilized world, and that would include a Western education for both men and women. Japan required educated mothers to raise standards, and thus the first batch of girls to be sent to study in America for an allotted period of 10 years was recruited from high-ranking samurai families who had fallen out of favor and could spare some mouths to feed at home. Of these five young women sent across the seas in 1871, the two eldest, at 14, did not fare well and were sent back within a few months. The remaining three experienced transformative home-sharing and education opportunities in America and became fluent speakers of English. Nimura concentrates on the stories of these three singular young women: Sutematsu Yamakawa, at 11, lived with the prominent Bacon family in New Haven and eventually attended Vassar; Shige Nagai, who had arrived at age 10, also attended Vassar and ended up marrying a fellow Japanese who had studied at Annapolis Naval Academy; Ume Tsuda, at barely 7, grew up in Georgetown and graduated from Bryn Mawr. All returned to Japan to marry, yet they carried on teaching and even founded an English school for girls. From clothing to manners to speech to aspirations, Nimura shows how the meeting of East and West transformed these select young women.

An extraordinary, elegantly told story of the beginning of Japan’s education and emancipation of its women.

Pub Date: May 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-07799-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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