Thursday, September 13, 2012

Featured Book: An Imperial Concubine's Tale by G.G. Rowley

Who doesn't love a bit of unique history? I'm a big fan of "hidden" history (as this blog would suggest!) and this upcoming title from Columbia University Press certainly fits the bill. An Imperial Concubine's Tale: Scandal, Shipwreck, and Salvation in Seventeenth-Century Japan by G.G. Rowley is the tale of a scandalous imperial concubine who finds herself banished, shipwrecked, and thrust into an entirely new life. description:

Japan in the early seventeenth century was a wild place. Serial killers stalked the streets of Kyoto at night, while noblemen and women mingled freely at the imperial palace, drinking saké and watching kabuki dancing in the presence of the emperor's principal consort. Among these noblewomen was an imperial concubine named Nakanoin Nakako, who in 1609 became embroiled in a sex scandal involving both courtiers and young women in the emperor's service. As punishment, Nakako was banished to an island in the Pacific Ocean, but she never reached her destination. Instead, she was shipwrecked and spent fourteen years in a remote village on the Izu Peninsula, before being set free in an amnesty. Returning to Kyoto, Nakako began a new adventure: she entered a convent and became a Buddhist nun.

Recounting the remarkable story of this resilient woman and the war-torn world in which she lived, G. G. Rowley investigates aristocratic family archives, village storehouses, and the records of imperial convents to re-create Nakako's life from beginning to end. She follows the banished concubine as she endures rural exile, receives an unexpected reprieve, and rediscovers herself as the abbess of a nunnery. As she unravels Nakako's unusual tale, Rowley also profiles the little-known lives of samurai women who sacrificed themselves on the fringes of the great battles that brought an end to more than a century of civil war. Written with keen insight and genuine affection, An Imperial Concubine's Tale tells the true story of a woman's extraordinary life in seventeenth-century Japan.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Featured Book: The Salem Witch Trials by Marilynne K. Roach

I admit, like many people, that I have a certain fascination with some rather depressing and even gruesome aspects of history. I remember reading about the Salem Witch Trials when I was a young girl and was always fascinated by the sense of mob hysteria that took over th etown. A few years ago I purchased The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne K. Roach to help refeed my childhood fascination. The book is about what you would expect from the title--a day by day account of life in Salem as well as the nearby towns and villages, including (of course) the proceedings of the witch trials. Although I've had this book for a few years, I've yet to get through it... it is very, very thorough. Below is an excerpt of one of the smaller 'entries' included in the book.

September 9th, 1672; Friday; Salem Town

The Grand Jury heard testimony concerning Giles Corey. The court had summoned witnesses to testify about him and his wife, but if he were scheduled to stand trial today, he did not cooperate. Although pleading innocent to all the indictments as they were read, he refused to answer when asked the formality of how he would be tried. Giles was expected to answer "By God and my country." Until he spoke those precise words, his case could not proceed. This situation, despite his not-guilty plea, was technically known as a "standing mute" and, under English law, was punishable by [pressing under heavy weights] until he cooperated. ... The court postponed Giles Corey's trial.