A lukewarm portrait of a red-hot international star of a century past.

MADAME SADAYAKKO

THE GEISHA WHO BEWITCHED THE WEST

Hot on the heels of Mineko Iwasaki’s Geisha (p. 1198) comes this biography of a once-renowned but now-forgotten Japanese courtesan, dancer, and actress.

It comes, however, with no clear argument for why modern readers should especially care. Downer (The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japan’s Richest Family, 1995, etc.) offers a by-the-numbers account of the life of Sadayakko, whose years matched those of Japan’s growth from feudal backwater to emergent and then defeated world power. About those profound social changes Downer has almost nothing to say, except to volunteer somewhat breathlessly that the arrival of Commodore Perry’s black ships occasioned the arrival in the West of the “myth of the exotic geisha. . . . The very word carried an erotic frisson. It conjured up a submissive almond-eyed Oriental maiden, the embodiment of all the seductive femininity and sexual freedom of some fanciful exotic East dreamed up in the fevered imaginations of repressed, frustrated Westerners.” In that spirit, the author concentrates on Sadayakko’s role in opening the hitherto all-male Japanese stage to women, as well as her achievement in bringing Japanese theater to a Western audience, becoming the Asian equivalent of a Sarah Bernhardt—or, as Downer has it, “more like Bernhardt combined with Anna Pavlova, a glorious dancer as well as an actress.” There isn’t much context here, so readers without grounding in that theater will have to imagine what all the fuss was about. Neither is there much insight into Sadayakko’s life, whose contours are rendered in invented dialogue of the Madame Butterfly school: “ ‘My name is Momosuké Iwasaki,’ the young man told her politely. ‘I am a humble student at Keiyo University.’ ‘I am Ko-yakko of the House of Hamada in the geisha town of Yoshicho,’ she replied, blushing prettily as she bowed in return.” And so on through apogee and eclipse, with precious little frisson to be had.

A lukewarm portrait of a red-hot international star of a century past.

Pub Date: March 10, 2003

ISBN: 1-592-40005-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

NIGHT

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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