*Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography*
*Winner of the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award*
*Winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography*
A “captivating” (The Washington Post) work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman during the first half of the 19th century in Edo—the city that would become Tokyo—and a portrait of a city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West.
The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a traditional life much like her mother’s. But after three divorces—and a temperament much too strong-willed for her family’s approval—she ran away to make a life for herself in one of the largest cities in the world: Edo, a bustling metropolis at its peak.
With Tsuneno as our guide, we experience the drama and excitement of Edo just prior to the arrival of American Commodore Perry’s fleet, which transformed Japan. During this pivotal moment in Japanese history, Tsuneno bounces from tenement to tenement, marries a masterless samurai, and eventually enters the service of a famous city magistrate. Tsuneno’s life provides a window into 19th-century Japanese culture—and a rare view of an extraordinary woman who sacrificed her family and her reputation to make a new life for herself, in defiance of social conventions.
“A compelling story, traced with meticulous detail and told with exquisite sympathy” (The Wall Street Journal), Stranger in the Shogun’s City is “a vivid, polyphonic portrait of life in 19th-century Japan [that] evokes the Shogun era with panache and insight” (National Review of Books).
Northwestern University history professor Stanley debuts with an evocative and deeply researched portrait of 19th-century Japan through the events of one woman's life in the decades before Commodore Perry's 1853 arrival and the opening of the country to the West. Drawing from a collection of family papers, Stanley recreates the life of Tsuneno, "the loudest, the most passionate" daughter of a Buddhist priest, from her birth in a farming village in 1804; to her first marriage, at age 12; her long-awaited departure for Edo (present-day Tokyo) in her late 30s; her fourth and final marriage, to an unsteady samurai; and her death in 1853. Stanley documents numerous misfortunes endured by Tsuneno, including being raped by the man who escorted her over the mountains to Edo, being forced to take menial jobs, and wearing one unlined robe for months as her angry brother refused to ship her clothes to her. And yet, Stanley argues, "wise, brilliant, skillful" Tsuneno "always claimed what was hers." Stanley fills in the blanks of Tsuneno's letters and diary entries with well-informed speculation about her daily life and atmospheric descriptions of corrupt and sophisticated Edo during the Tokugawa shogunate. Japanophiles and readers of women's history will be entranced.
Very down to earth, loved it.