A Woman of Pleasure

Counterpoint. Feb. 2024. 320p. tr. from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. ISBN 9781640095793. pap. $17.95. F
Based on true events, Murata’s English-language debut exposes the danger and injustices suffered by trafficked women and children at the turn of the 20th century. Aoi Ichi is still a child at heart, living with her family on the small island of Iojima in Meiji-era Japan. Her life is thrown into chaos when she is sold to a brothel in Kumamoto’s pleasure quarter to pay for her father’s debts. Suddenly, Ichi has to relearn everything she knows about the world in order to survive strict social hierarchy and systemic sexual violence amid Japan’s rapid Westernization. Murata crafts a powerful story with universal themes, and her deep knowledge of history and culture illuminates the impossible situation women were forced to navigate. Still, the novel leaves readers feeling hopeful in the power of women and working-class people. Carpenter’s translation is considerate of the essence of its urtext, but the precise use of language is a key theme in the novel, and nuances are often lost in the translation.
VERDICT Multi-award-winning Murata is a hit in Japan, and this will be a valuable addition to historical-fiction collections.
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