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East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir through the Seasons Hardcover – March 12, 2007
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It may take the earth 365 days to orbit the sun, but the ways in which Eastern and Western cultures organize and understand that transit are as different as night and day. For Dalby, the discovery of an ancient Chinese almanac provides the source of both professional fascination as well as personal inspiration. Divided into 72 separate 5-day units bearing such luscious titles as "Thunder Sings" and "Rainbows Hide," the almanac's unique structure compelled Dalby to combine her introspective narrative with extrinsic observations of nature and the seasons. As Dalby attentively contemplates each of the various worlds she has inhabited, from graduate student days in Kyoto as the first and only non-Japanese geisha to her museful role as a watchful gardener in northern California, she employs stream-of-consciousness reflection to nimbly navigate their interconnectedness. The renowned author of Geisha (1998) and The Tale of Murasaki (2000), Dalby seamlessly couples an artist's adroit sensitivity with an anthropologist's keen perception to create a singularly intimate yet universally accessible portrait of the natural world. Carol Haggas
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But this book is in many ways more than an almanac, and represents an in depth view of Japanese culture, interspersed with the author's time in California it is able to ground and tie these differences for a western audience (comparing different species of goose or oranges or the climate). Instead of being a dry and academic evaluation of the peculiarities of Japanese, it is a series of anecdotes of Liza's time in Japan, especially of her time as a Geisha which gives a humanisitic view of traditional Japan from the inside, that allows us to empathize with how others may view things differently.
All in all a deeply sensitive description of how the seasons play such an integral part in Japanese culture in little things such as how the patterns of the kimono change with seasons, and how haiku contain certain seasonal words, and how the condiments and flowers change with the seasons for the tea ceremony. All this along with funny little anecdotes about the cold of Kyoto and toasing Mikan (japanese tangerines) on the radiator.
It is also a gardener's treasure trove, with stories of numerous plants and trees and their symbolism and how some of them have been transplanted to her garden in California.
Though American, Dalby has an intimate knowledge of Japanese culture unavailable to most. Her academic pursuits led her to be the first caucasian admitted into a geisha house to study and obtain a status of geisha. She was a consultant on the film "Memoirs of a Geisha", and has parlayed this knowledge into her two passions: gardening and Japanese culture.
The book contains daily essays, or I consider them meditations, that combine life experience, cultural connections, and seasonal passages parsed out in the japanese five season year. The lyrical names of the seasonal segments were enough to hook me into the book, but her musings made me know I wanted to own it and re-read it as my seasons changed.
I am not one to re-read books often, but this is a beautiful exception to the rule.
East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir through the Seasons
Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel
Finally, we get all 72 seasons, along with Dalby's poetic reflective essays on each. She covers a breadth of material, from her geisha days in Kyoto to her gardening adventures at her current Bay Area home.
Her writing is calming and meditative but stimulates the imagination. I allowed myself to wallow in her world for hours at a time. Her reflections on Japanese and American culture are interesting, and she also has a lot of knowledge to share about the natural world. Read this book and be transported.