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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto Hardcover – September 24, 1991


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 24, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679403086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679403081
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #478,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Iyer's travelogue about visiting Japan and living in a monastery is subverted by his encounter with a vivacious woman.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Iyer, author of Video Night in Kathmandu ( LJ 4/1/88), has written a lyrical fable about the Japan of both yesterday and today. He is drawn to Japan, he explains, because "everyone falls in love with what he cannot begin to understand." He begins by traveling to a Kyoto monastery to study Zen Buddhism, which is part of his effort to "get to the urgent truth." This leads him to a friendship with a bourgeois housewife named Sachiko, who is fascinated by the West. Iyer sets out to understand Sachiko and, by extension, Japanese culture. With his light touch for travel writing, Iyer selectively weaves the plaintive love poems and stories of Buddhist priests into his narrative. His sensitive treatment is recommended for most travel collections.
- Susan Fifer Canby, National Geographic Soc. Lib., Washington,
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

As a work of fiction this book is stunning, but as a memoir, I feel it's a bit too farfetched.
AHE
I was particularly interested in this book because I have a wonderful Japanese daughter-in-law and have been to Japan myself.
Linda Linguvic
I recommend this book highly to all sensitive armchair travelers as well as for people who are just interested in Japan.
Marilyn Mendoza

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Truth Seeker "Stephanie" on February 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
I bought this book used last summer and filed it away on a bookshelf, and finally picked it up two days ago. Even though these days, I read through most books slowly, I was sucked into Iyer's Kyoto world, and plowed through the book in two very enjoyable sessions.
I was baffled to read some of the criticisms readers at Amazon gave this book. I found the accusations that Iyer is condescending to be the most perplexing. I've read lots of travel writing, and have found that many travel writers spend most of their time analyzing their chosen destination with a God-like impersonal analysis of the place's foibles that certainly does often come across as arrogant or ignorant.
What struck me about this book was how much Iyer does *not* do this. He certainly spends a lot of time analyzing and trying to figure out both Japan and the people he encounters there, but he is no more critical of others than he is of himself, no more critical of Japan than of his own culture(s). He does not watch from a distance, but participates in what he writes about, from interacting with 'The Lady' to dipping his foot into the waters of a monk's life, and exposes his own floundering. He criticizes not only that which he participates in, but also his own foibles and inability to realize the rigor and discipline of Zen, his own inability to understand Sachiko and give her what she needs and wants.
I came away from the book seeing Sachiko *not* as someone who is helpless or hapless, but rather, as someone who, like all of us, struggles between dreams and duties. Yet unlike most of us, Sachiko taps into a well of deep inner strength and vision and breaks through the restrictions of her cultural conditioning to realize her dreams.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Subtitled "Four Seasons in Kyoto", this 1992 book by the British travel writer, Pico Iyer, is more than just a book about a place. Mr. Iyer spent a year in Kyoto to learn about Zen as well as Japan. Along the way he met a very special woman, Sachiko, and learned more about the essence of being Japanese than he ever expected. I was particularly interested in this book because I have a wonderful Japanese daughter-in-law and have been to Japan myself. I remember the few days we spent in Kyoto with fond recollections and smiled at the author's vivid descriptions. I also found myself nodding in agreement at some of the discoveries he made about Sachiko and her way of thinking as I, too, have had my eyes opened in similar ways.
Mr. Iyer has the ability to paint a complex portrait in words. I found myself sharing his discoveries, from his experiences in the temples to the very modern music clubs. The center of the book, however, is Sachiko. She's 30 years old, the mother of two children and married to a Japanese businessman who spends 18 or more hours a day at work. She speaks English with difficulty but has read a lot of classic literature and is also an aficionado of a wide variety of pop music icons. In spite of her traditional upbringing, she yearns for a larger life, beyond the confines of her home.
Mr. Iyer becomes her friend and they do a lot of sightseeing together. She's free all day and so is he, which makes their friendship easy. Some of the most interesting scenes are when he tries to speak Japanese and she tries to speak English and misunderstandings follow, both because of the language itself and also because of different ways of thinking.
I'm a romantic and fully expected their relationship to blossom into an intimate one, but Mr.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on July 16, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title of this book is a bit misleading. Yes, Pico Iyer does live in a monastery for a few days but his main emphasis is an exploration of Kyoto, one of the holiest cities in Japan.
The title comes from a Buddhist story about a beautiful woman who tempted a monk, much as Buddha was tempted by an evil god as he sat under the Bodhi tree searching for enlightenment.
Pico is an essayist for Time magazine and he is far more interested in the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the Japanese people than he is in Buddhism. His main subject is a housewife named Sachiko who is married to a Japanese "salary man," who works from six in the morning until eleven at night. His family life is an afterthought. Sachiko loves everything foreign from the Beatles to Mickey Mouse. She calls Pico a "bird" because he is free to wander all over the globe while she is a slave to her husband and two young children.
According to Iyer, Japan is close to a utopian society and Kyoto is the cleanest city he's ever seen. Sachiko is a fascinating character. When she introduces Pico to her children she apologizes for their misbehavior although they are much more well-behaved than western children Pico has known.
Pico and Sachiko's relationship is perplexing at first. She hints that she might want something more than a platonic relationship. He's wise enough to know that it's the dream of a romance, the romance she's seen in the movies, that she's after.
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