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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