The Lady and the Monk (book)

by Pico Iyer

I picked up this book initially because I’m interested in stories of westerners in Japan. I got more than I bargained for.

Iyer, a young writer born in England to Indian parents but raised largely in California, convinces a publisher to fund his trip to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. The early chapters of the book detail Iyer’s fumbling attempts to figure out what’s going on in Japanese temples, interspersed with vignettes of young Western men who have come to Japan to meet compliant Japanese women — men, of course, to whom the intellectual Iyer feels immeasurably superior.  Iyer eventually winds up in a study group at a local temple, and meets a young Japanese housewife, with whom Iyer pursues a relationship that he believes to be purely intellectual relationship. Uh-huh.

The story becomes not so much one of Iyer’s relationship with Sachiko (of which we learn very little), but of Sachiko herself. Through the skilll of the author, we see the world of the Japanese wife, which is every bit as circumscribed as that of the Japanese geisha (and, I suspect, Japanese men). Sachiko takes over the book to such an extent, that when she disappears briefly about 2/3 ofthe way through, I started turning pages rapidly to determine when she would reappear.

Since this is real life, not a fairy tale, the story doesn’t end the way you think it’s going to.  But along the way, Iyer learns much about Japan, about himself, and about Zen Buddhism too.

Highly recommended.  Ted and I have very different reading interests, but we both liked this book.  Available in paperback.

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Captain Alatriste (book series)

by Arturo Perez-Reverte

These books tell the story of the beginning of imperial Spain’s decline, in the early 16th C, through the exploits of the fictional but historically plausible Captain Alatriste.They’re all there — low-born pirates and well-born thieves, conquistadors and footsoldiers, the King and the Inquisition, prostitutes with hears of gold and the beautiful daughters of the aristocracy, as closely watched as any sheik’s daughter — most of the time.  Even one of my favorite historical characters — the wonderfully named Conde-Duque de Olivares — puts in an appearance. The author not only creates terrific characters, but conjures up an entire world, In particular, the world of the ordinary soldier during the time of the Thirty Years’ War.

Perez-Reverte seems to be well served by his translator. The language is perfectly good, idiomatically correct English which somehow preserves the lilt and grace of the original Spanish. There are four novels to date (the fifth has yet to be translated):  Captain Alatriste, The Purity of Blood, The Sun Over Breda, and The King’s Gold. Each is a complete story, so you can read them out of order.  Each is relatively short — perfect for beach reading. The first two, at least, are in paperback.