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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto Paperback – October 27, 1992

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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.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 27, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679738347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679738343
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 68 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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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE 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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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on July 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
I have two responses to this well-written travel narrative. First, I greatly enjoyed Iyer's observations and thoughts about contemporary Japan. Even though the book was published in 1991, much of it still seems accurate to me, someone who has traveled to Japan three times. Iyer, is a very good travel writer, one who is neither acerbic in the manner of, say, Paul Theroux, nor prone to the gauzy romanticism one sometimes encounters in western responses to Japan (like Cathy Davidson's "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji"). He is alert to subtleties of culture and behavior that most travelers would never notice. So that's what I liked about "The Lady and the Monk."

On the other hand, the account of his relationship with Sachiko, the Japanese woman who longs to break free from her constrained life by cultivating relationships with foreigners, does not wear as well over the almost two decades that divide his experiences from the present. It seems dated and (since it is interwoven throughout the text) ultimately a little tiresome. Iyer's decision to render Sachiko's awkward English as he heard it (as opposed to conveying what she was saying in standard English) works at first, but eventually has the effect of making her seem much less thoughtful than she probably was. Iyer's graceful prose and Sachiko's stumbles as she tries to express herself in English are set side by side, even though he probably, to her ear, sounded even worse in Japanese. This flaw makes it hard to see their relationship as one of equals; there is a teacher-student quality to their conversations that becomes irksome. (I think it is this rendering of language inequality that makes some readers see Iyer as condescending, even though I don't think he means to be.) Do read this book for its many good parts, which almost make up for too much Sachiko.
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