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A guide to serenity through the seasons by the author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki

In this collection of essays Liza Dalby takes the 72 seasonal units of an ancient Chinese almanac as seeds, and grows them into a year's journal, entwining personal experience, natural phenomena, and ruminations on the cultural aesthetics of China, Japan, and California. Written from Dalby's perspective as an anthropologist and gardener, the essays explore how the Asian calendar has grounded her awareness of time and place. Drawing connections between philology and nature, memory and experience, they draw on her experiences over the years she spent in Japan where she first went to live at age 16. She also conducted fieldwork on a tiny island in the Inland sea, worked as the only non-Japanese geisha, and painted her teeth black to recreate the courtly fashions of the eleventh century. The essays also delve into memories of keeping a pet butterfly, roasting rice cakes with her children, watching whales, and pampering worms to make compost. In the manner of the Japanese personal poetic essay form, together they comprise 72 windows into a life lived between cultures, resulting in a dazzling and down-to-earth mosaic-like memoir.


As she collects and layers arcane and fascinating pieces of knowledge, she builds her own very personal almanac packed with the wonder of loving wo cultures, the intense inner life of each season, and boundless curiosity of the scholar /child. This is a book to dip in and out of throughout the year.

Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun

Liza Dalby's memoir of the seasons is as fresh and captivating as springtime. A very special book.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

Dalby is clearly an expert forager, with a love for digging at the roots of things, be they customs or words... As might be expected of a onetime geisha, Dalby has a keen and subtle feel for textures and shadings... There are no heavy-handed 'explanations' of Japan among Dalby's whimsical observations of geese and dance forms. But by picking up details that open out, like a paper fan, she makes us feel that we're seeing Japan from within, yet in a language we can follow


I have never come across a book so eccentric, elegiac and yet still compulsive. It calms, quietens, transports and, ultimately, restores hope that true beauty does not lie in wealth, material acquisition or celebrity, but in the natural world

Daily Telegraoh

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    June 2, 2008


    352 pages

    RRP $29.99

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