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The Only Woman in the Room: A Memoir Hardcover – February 1, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
This engaging, modest account recalls the life and times of a woman who made significant contributions to both Japanese and American cultures, first as an advocate for civil rights clauses in the postwar Japanese constitution, later as a promoter of Asian-American amity through the arts for the Japan Society and the Asia Society. A daughter of internationally known pianist Leo Sirota, a Russian-Jewish emigre who settled first in Vienna, where the author was born, and then, with the shadow of Hitler looming, emigrated to Japan, where Sirota taught at the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo. There Gordon grew up and became, as she notes, "part Japanese." After attending college in California and working part-time monitoring Japanese broadcasts, she landed a research job in Japanese affairs at Time magazine after the outbreak of WWII; during the war she assumed a position on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's occupation staff, where she participated in the drafting of the new constitution, with particular attention to women's rights. Noting that she was frequently "the only woman in the room" during these experiences, she offers here quietly feminist, freshly illuminating observations about the two cultures that are distinguished by a persuasive international outlook.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This memoir by the daughter of the famous Russian pianist Leo Sirota reveals an eventful life, recollected with succinct but vivid detail. Of Russian Jewish heritage, Gordon grew up in Vienna, about which she remembers little. Political and economic conditions compelled her family to leave Europe for Japan, where her parents planned to remain for only a few months, but they ultimately stayed for many years. Gordon herself came to the U.S. to attend college; then war broke out, and she was separated from her parents for an excruciating length of time. After Japan's defeat, she rejoined her mother and father there, and she worked for the American occupation forces. She returned to the U.S. in 1947, began a career in arts sponsorship, and became a wife and mother. Interesting reading for those who enjoy hearing about quiet but strong lives, from which personal inspiration may be gained. Brad Hooper
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Gordon escaped the war by going to an all girls school in California. There she encountered the feminist movement and learned a lot about women's rights issues. Upon returning to Japan, she was asked by the American government to help with the constitution. The Americans wanted the constitution written and adopted quickly, fearing the Soviets last minute entry into the war would give them influence. She went to town, drafting about a dozen articles for the Japanese constitution guaranteeing women rights in the work place, politics, health care, child custody, etc. Many were stripped out but two key articles she drafted remained. What's more amazing is Gordon takes so little credit for her accomplishments and instead agonizes more about what was left on the cutting room floor.
For several decades after, the creation of the Japanese constitution was not well publicized. The Americans feared the haste with which it was written and the fact that the job was basically given to a group of found amateurs would cause the Japanese people to reject it. It's only now that her story has been able to come out.
All in all a fascinating account and hard to put down. If there's a downside it's that Gordon doesn't pump up her autobiography with more fascinating and telling anecdotes.