Who is Sei Shonagon? The tenth-century author of The Pillow Book? A woman of mixed-race parentage, surviving life in modern Japan? Or a voice from behind a screen, reaching across centuries, linking them both? Just off a fashionable street in the upbeat heart of contemporary Tokyo, lies a fragment of another age - an old incense shop. Above it, in a room furnished with nothing but a simple paper screen, guests come to speak with the woman know as 'Sei Shonagon', hoping to find answers to the mysteries of their own bizarre lives. Jan Blensdorf's first novel tells the story of one woman's fascination with the conflicting aspects of her society: its respect for simplicity and the natural world, lying alongside the pressures of manic consumerism; its public emphasis on formal language and behavior, contrasting with private worlds of sexual deviation and excess. Confined to a hospital bed, hovering on the edge of consciousness, the narrator recalls her early childhood, and how the death of her American father led her to accompany her Japanese mother to Tokyo and an existence dominated by a traditionally-minded uncle. Struggling against his cold indifference, 'Sei Shonagon' seeks out beauty where she can find it - whether in her memories, or in traditional Japanese culture. As she grows older, the need to understand what she sees around her becomes a personal odyssey that affects the lives of everyone she encounters.
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