In the late nineteenth century, Tomo, the faithful wife of a government official, is sent to Tokyo, where a heartbreaking task is awaiting her. From among hundreds of geishas and daughters offered up for sale by their families she must select a respectable young girl to become her husband's new lover. Externally calm, but torn apart inside, Tomo dutifully begins the search for an official mistress.
From the author of The Vegetarian and Human Acts comes a book like no other. The White Book is a meditation on colour, beginning with a list of white things. It is a book about mourning, rebirth and the tenacity of the human spirit. It is a stunning investigation of the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life.
Translated from Korean by Deborah Smith.
Please note that the date for Musashi has changed to the 23rd of September.
The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman.
Miyamoto Musashi was the child of an era when Japan was emerging from decades of civil strife. Lured to the great Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by the hope of becoming a samurai -- without really knowing what it meant -- he regains consciousness after the battle to find himself lying defeated, dazed and wounded among thousands of the dead and dying. On his way home, he commits a rash act, becomes a fugitive and brings life in his own village to a standstill -- until he is captured by a weaponless Zen monk.
The lovely Otsu, seeing in Musashi her ideal of manliness, frees him from his tortuous punishment, but he is recaptured and imprisoned. During three years of solitary confinement, he delves into the classics of Japan and China. When he is set free again, he rejects the position of samurai and for the next several years pursues his goal relentlessly, looking neither to left nor to right.
Ever so slowly it dawns on him that following the Way of the Sword is not simply a matter of finding a target for his brute strength. Continually striving to perfect his technique, which leads him to a unique style of fighting with two swords simultaneously, he travels far and wide, challenging fighters of many disciplines, taking nature to be his ultimate and severest teacher and undergoing the rigorous training of those who follow the Way. He is supremely successful in his encounters, but in the Art of War he perceives the way of peaceful and prosperous governance and disciplines himself to be a real human being.
He becomes a reluctant hero to a host of people whose lives he has touched and been touched by. And, inevitably, he has to pit his skill against the naked blade of his greatest rival.
Musashi is a novel in the best tradition of Japanese story telling. It is a living story, subtle and imaginative, teeming with memorable characters, many of them historical. Interweaving themes of unrequited love, misguided revenge, filial piety and absolute dedication to the Way of the Samurai, it depicts vividly a world Westerners know only vaguely. Full of gusto and humor, it has an epic quality and universal appeal.
Originally published in serialized form between 1935 and 1939 by Asahi Shinbun, this classic historical novel has been in book form many times, has been produced as a film at least 7 times, on the stage repeatedly and has been made into a mini-series by three networks.
In 1659, a vast and unusual map of China arrived in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It was bequeathed by John Selden, a London business lawyer, political activist, former convict, MP and the city's first Orientalist scholar. Largely ignored, it remained in the bowels of the library, until called up by an inquisitive reader. When Timothy Brook saw it in 2009, he realised that the Selden Map was 'a puzzle that had to be solved': an exceptional artefact, so unsettlingly modern-looking it could almost be a forgery. But it was genuine, and what it has to tell us is astonishing.
It shows China, not cut off from the world, but a participant in the embryonic networks of global trade that fuelled the rise of Europe - and which now power China's ascent. And it raises as many question as it answers: how did John Selden acquire it? Where did it come from? Who re-imagined the world in this way? And most importantly - what can it tell us about the world at that time? Brook, like a cartographic detective, has provided answers - including a surprising last-minute revelation of authorship.
From the Gobi Desert to the Philippines, from Java to Tibet and into China itself, Brook uses the map (actually a schematic representation of China's relation to astrological heaven) to tease out the varied elements that defined this crucial period in China's history.
Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming?
In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability -- at the level of literature, history, and politics -- to grasp the scale and violence of climate change. The extreme nature of today's climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements. Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost.
The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence -- a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer's summons to confront the most urgent task of our time.
We have read well over 80 books since the book group began.