Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize 2020, a vivid work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman in Edo - now known as Tokyo - and a portrait of a great city on the brink of momentous change
'Compelling... Deeply absorbing' Guardian
The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in 1804 in a village in Japan's snow country and was expected to lead a life much like her mother's. Instead - after three divorces and with a temperament much too strong-willed for her family's approval - she ran away to follow her own path in Edo, the city we now call Tokyo.
Stranger in the Shogun's City is a rare, captivating portrait of one woman as she endeavours to recreate herself and her life, and provides a window into the drama and excitement of Japan at a pivotal moment in history.
'Marvellous... Stanley builds up a picture of Tsuneno's world, immersing us in an experience akin to time travel' TLS
* Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography 2020 *
* Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2021 *
* Winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography *
* Longlisted for the HWA Non-Fiction Crown *
How did it feel to live in what was even then one of the largest cities in the world, a place of vivid and brilliant creativity, isolated by decree from the world at large? This is the question that Amy Stanley has set herself in this quietly ambitious book... She has extracted a touching and accessible story about leaving the provinces for the thrilling loneliness of the big city, about making mistakes and making the same mistakes again... a minor miracle of documentary and literary archaeology
At the heart of Stanley's book is the extraordinary and terrible story of Tsuneno... Using detailed documentation, Stanley builds up a picture of Tsuneno's world, immersing us in temple, village and town life in an experience akin to time travel... Tsuneno's story takes us into virtually every corner of this remarkable society on the brink of change
Stanley's book - a stunning work of academic persistence, reconstruction and luck - weaves the hard-won details of Tsuneno's life into the final years of the Edo period, brilliantly highlighting the clues that both Japan, and the city that would become Tokyo, were on the brink of change... Few western writers have managed to capture the DNA strands from this fabulously colourful moment of Tokyo's past and weave them so adroitly
The great achievement of this revelatory book is to demolish any assumption on the part of English language readers that pre-modern Japan was all blossom, tea ceremonies and mysterious half-smiles... Tsuneno is interesting and admirable precisely because she was of her time and had to make the best of the hand she had been dealt. It is her ordinariness, and her multiple failures at not getting what she wanted, that make her story so deeply absorbing
A visit to the past that is a refreshing antidote to the histories of great men-and the occasional great woman-at times of flux... Tsuneno's life was not a heroic one. The heroism lies rather in Ms Stanley's efforts to decipher her story... the paper trail Tsuneno left behind is remarkable