A deeply researched 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 great city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West.
Through Tsuneno, a woman with no remarkable talents or aspirations, Stanley conjures a teeming world ... Tsuneno’s restlessness and bad luck make her a rewarding subject ... Stanley’s primary materials are letters from Tsuneno and her relatives, which are delightfully frank ... The couple squabble, divorce, and remarry, and Tsuneno’s fortunes continue their erratic, fascinating fall and rise and fall ... a lost place appears to the reader as if alive and intact.
'Historians', wrote Simon Schama, 'are painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation,' but Amy Stanley succeeds as well as anyone could hope in her masterfully told and painstakingly researched evocation of an ordinary Japanese woman’s life in Edo on the eve of the opening of Japan ... This is very much the portrait of a woman. Stanley deals with the disappointments and tragedies of Tsuneno’s life with a delicate touch that channels the understanding of a daughter, a sister, a mother ... Having laid out the psychological and familial framework for her story, Stanley then weaves through the narrative threads from the rich trove of memoirs, annals and artefacts that the boisterous Edo period left behind. From this we hear the sounds of the samurai tramping through the city, smell the eels grilling in tiny food stands, see the colour of posters for Kabuki performances ... Stranger in the Shogun’s City is the most evocative book this review has read about Japan since The World of the Shining Prince by Ivan Morris.
... absorbing ... a compelling story, traced with meticulous detail and told with exquisite sympathy ... Ms. Stanley draws a richly textured picture of Tsuneno’s world and is especially attuned to quotidian routines, particularly for women ... previously brief flashes of Tsuneno’s willful personality spark into a blaze.