A Woman of Pleasure
by Kiyoko Murata
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Pub Date 27 Feb 2024 | Archive Date 23 Jan 2024
Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press, Counterpoint
In 1903, a fifteen-year-old girl named Aoi Ichi is sold to the most exclusive brothel in Kumamoto, Japan. Despite her modest beginnings in a southern fishing village, she becomes the protégée of an oiran, the highest-ranking courtesan at the brothel. Through the teachings of her oiran, Shinonome, Ichi begins to understand the intertwined power of sex and money. And in her mandatory school lessons, her writing instructor, Tetsuko, encourages Ichi and the others to think clearly and express themselves. By banding together, the women organize a strike and walk away from the brothel and into the possibility of new lives.
Based on real-life events in Meiji-era Japan, award-winning and critically acclaimed veteran writer Kiyoko Murata re-creates in stunning detail the brutal yet vibrant lives of women in the red-light district at the turn of the twentieth century—the bond they share, the survival skills they pass down, and the power of owning one's language.
MORE ADVANCE PRAISE FOR A WOMAN OF PLEASURE
“The experiences of a country girl sold into prostitution in 1903 lay bare the established system and financial exploitation of the Japanese pleasure industry. . . . A precise portrait of sexual enslavement.”
“Vivid, humane, and fresh, Murata’s compelling tale of youth, sisterhood and society’s treatment of women sings in Winter-Carpenter’s translation.”
—Polly Barton, author of Fifty Sounds
“With crystalline economy precisely calibrated to a world where money, beauty, power, and the lifeforce of women are measured against the value of pleasure and exchanged for survival, Kiyoko Murata's novel comes alive with exacting force. Reading A Woman of Pleasure is like walking into the stratified rooms of Shinonome vibrant with a kaleidoscopic range of perspectives, each drawn with such nuance and sensitivity that they held me as captive as the changing, patriarchal world of early 1900s Japan held this community of women and girls. A marvel.”
—Asako Serizawa, winner of the PEN/Open Book Award and author of Inheritors
“Ichi Aoi is an honest and open-minded protagonist. She is completely contrary to the stereotypical image of sex workers.”
—Akiko Itoyama, author of In Pursuit of Lavender (Yomiuri Shimbun)
“A book which fully showcases the craft of a veteran writer.”
“Kiyoko Murata is an excellent storyteller who can make folktales and mythological legends burrow into our psyche, sharply delineating the joy and horror of life and death. The knowledge concerning the inner workings of the female body that is passed on from woman to woman in this book is amazingly powerful.”
“The conventional novel about Japanese brothels shows only either the glamor or the misery of the place, but this work shows both.”
“Very impressive work that gives you an idea of the life of a prostitute, often portrayed only as a miserable being.”
—Nihon Keizai Shimbun