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The Last Concubine [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Lesley Downer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Mar 2009
How do you fall in love when your society has no word for it? The Last Concubine is an epic love story closely based on historical events, chronicling 19th century Japana??s extraordinary change from a medieval to a modern country. This is the story of a shogun, a princess and the three thousand women of the womena??s palace - all of whom really existed - and of the civil war that brought their way of life to an end ...Japan, 1865: the womena??s palace in the great city of Edo is a sprawling complex much like a middle-eastern harem. Bristling with intrigue and erotic rivalries, the palace is home to three thousand women and only one man - the young shogun. Sachi, a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl, is chosen as his concubine. But Japan is changing. Black Ships have arrived from the West, bringing foreigners eager to add Japan to their colonial empires. As civil war erupts, Sachi flees for her life. Rescued by a rebel warrior, she finds unknown feelings stirring within her; but this is a world in which private passions have no place and there is not even a word for a??lovea??. Before she dare dream of a life with him, Sachi must unravel the mystery of her own origins a?? a mystery that encompasses a wrong so terrible that it threatens to destroy her . ..From the timeless beauty of the Womena??s Palace in Edo to bloody battles fought outside its walls, The Last Concubine is an epic evocation of a country in revolution, and of a young womana??s quest to find out who she really is.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Oakhill Publishing Limited; Unabridged edition (13 Mar 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1846485541
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846485541
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

More About the Author

Lesley Downer's mother was Chinese and her father a professor of Chinese, so she grew up in a house full of books on Asia. But it was Japan, not China, that proved the more alluring, and she lived there for some fifteen years.

She has written many books about the country and its culture, including Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World, and Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West, and has presented television programmes on Japan for Channel 4, the BBC and NHK.

She lives in London with her husband, the author Arthur I. Miller, and still makes sure she goes to Japan every year.

Find out more at

Product Description


'Enthralling story that brings alive a distant exotic world' -- WOMAN&HOME, March 08

'Epic romantic drama set at a pivotal point in Japanese history. This fragile world with its rigid hierarchical structures is beautifully portrayed. This is a love story but far more'
-- reFRESHlite, 12 March 2008

'The Last Concubine is an extraordinary novel--richly-imagined and compelling. An amazing achievement.'
-- SANDRA GULLAND, author of Mistress of the Sun and the Josephine B. Trilogy

'a sweeping historical drama...fluently written, and the political events, battles, customs, minutiae of daily life and even the weather have all been meticulously researched to recreate Japan in the 1860s'
-- Literary Review, April 2008

Thoroughly researched, this beautifully descriptive historical saga offers a fascinating insight into the culture of imperial Japan, and will have you hooked from the first page - wonderful
-- MY WEEKLY --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Epic history and romance combine in a passionate, exotic novel featuring the mysterious mistress of the last shogun emperor. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put this book down! 24 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was a spell-binding, engrossing and a thoroughly enjoyable read. I had previously read Lesley Downer's study into the life of Geisha and found her an engaging and accessible author. I'm not a real fan of novels, but knowing that Downer had written it and that she had a broad and in-depth knowledge of Japanese history made me pick it up. I am so glad I did! It is absolutely amazing, the characters are well formed, the storyline engrossing and the backdrop of 1860s Japan awe inspiring. I read the whole thing in a matter of days (barely sleeping because I NEEDED to know what happened next!)

Some of the 1 Star reviews here complain about historical inaccuracy, but obviously these people did not read the book all the way through. Downer writes in the afterword that, while most of the setting is historically accurate, some has been stretched to fit into her story. And she explains which bits have been! She also lists a bibliography at the end for us to do our own further reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rollicking Good Read 29 Nov 2009
By Kevin
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Lesley Downer is that rare thing, an expert with a gift for sharing her encyclopaedic knowledge entertainingly. She writes with a sure, light touch - and she brings nineteenth-century Japan to life. The account of travelling on foot through the mountains to Tokyo in the last days of the Shogunate is atmospheric and masterly, as are the descriptions of customs, clothes, food, fads and even scents in the Japan of the period. The author takes the reader into a vanished world at the heart of which is a love story where destinies are decided on the strength of a look or a fleeting touch. The plot includes the obligatory foreigner - but it is a measure of Downer's success that she doesn't really need her enterprising British diplomat as an entrée to the world she describes: she has already made the reader completely at home. The Last Concubine can be thoroughly recommended to anyone with an interest in Japan or an appetite for stories of adventure and romance. Like one of the previous reviewers I very much look forward to the movie.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read for both entertainment and history 26 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I started reading The Last Concubine and couldn't put it down until I finished it. Aside from the easy enjoyment of Lesley Downer's page-turner tale, it was a bonus to be given such a strong sense of the period and its history by someone who is an expert in the field, quite aside from the fiction she writes.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A romance set in a historic period 5 April 2008
The historical setting of the novel is fairly faithfully described, but the author fails to bring it to life. The picture we are given of the samurai lifestyle is somewhat flat. Duty to the liege lord may well have been the defining feature of life in the samurai era, but rather than demonstrating this through characterization, Downer repeats it to the reader till it becomes little more than a platitude. This sense of duty is then contrasted with the wonderful freedom introduced to Japan as a result of Western influence at the end of the book. This overly simplistic contrast of values is really not much more than a ruse so that the love story on which the novel centres can run its course.

The novel is an enjoyable enough read and has some interesting historical detail at times, but has a few too many implausible coincidences and small inconsistencies in the plot to ever really become a page-turner. It can also be a bit trite - a number of times the two lovers are in situations where they are so close `she could feel the heat of his skin'.... I don't mean to be overly critical, as I did enjoy the story, but it was a little too Mills and Boonish for me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Adventure 16 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When I picked it up I said to myself, this is the way to get into Cio Cio San's dreams. I figured that Lesley Downer has spent so much time studying and thinking about Japan of that time, she would likely be able to get inside the skin of the characters. -- Indeed! All true. -- At first I said to myself oh, this is like a sword-and-sorcerers novel. This is not a medieval world, this is ancient. And that sense continued, with all the travel, geography, weather, at times nearly like a Lord of the Rings journey. Then there I was in the palace and I was afraid I would be confined there forever, dealing with endless details of protocol and refinement -- but the martial arts! Wow. And then, thank goodness, saved from all that and cast out into the great unknown again for more adventure. I really loved it. I know it is classified as a romance novel for me it is an adventure novel. With wisdom about the political and 'sociological' situation of the time. (The scenes of carnage after the European weapons entered the scenes reminded me of descriptions of the American Civil War, which was of course about that same time. The gore. The destruction. The change of a world. -- And because she managed to convey the sense of excitement about hand-to-hand combat, by the time the other butchery began, I could feel the difference viscerally.)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable 20 Feb 2009
By val
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. At first I started to read it because of the reviews refering to a romance between court lady Sachi(the last concubine of the Shogun) and ronin samurai Shinzaemon.
However this romance was very understated, as in the Japan of the 1860's there was not even a word for romantic love as we know it.You felt affection for your parents,respect for your wife, and lust for courtesans so the romantic love and passion that was a feature of the West was regarded as an affliction that usually led to death in the Japan of that time.
Those reviewers who described this book as being like a"Mills & Boon" book have obviously not read a Mills & Boon book lately.In Last Concubine there were no sex scenes, no overt avowals of love; just meaningful glances and bits of poetry.
Where this book really scores is in the depiction of the court life of the ladies of the Shogun. The scents, clothes, rituals,calligraphy,are all sumptiously described.
I don't know how accurate the historical events surrounding the story are but they seem well researched and to that extent are informative about a period in Japan that I knew nothing about.
I thought it was a good read
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good read
Published 12 days ago by tulin
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
a good insight into the life of a concubine.
Published 2 months ago by mary
5.0 out of 5 stars Consummate page turner.....
Although this book has been released some time,I never seemed to get around to reading it....once I did I couldn't put it down. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jeanette Caiger
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for all Japanophiles
A very engrossing novel. Set in 1860s Japan during the time of the Meiji Restoration and the years leading up to it.
Sachi grows up in a mountain village rural Japan. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Gary Selikow
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read!
This book is a little westernized, but, even for me, who is probably oversensitive to that kind of thing, I didn't find that an intrusive quality. Read more
Published 10 months ago by SoCalSue
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea
I feel so-so about The Last Concubine. It was alright, but it just didn't grab me. It's competently written, but it seemed to lack flair or any real imagination. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Isis
4.0 out of 5 stars The Last Concubine
I like the works by the author and have much enjoyed its reading. A very different world to anything we might expect,
but the story had a mist interest slant and unexpected... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Duncan Paul Matthews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last Concubine
Very good read once I got into it. The start is very slow but stick with it. The story is set in Japan in the later half of the 19th century. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Karen Gooderham
Although slow to start with, well worth the read. Interesting love story about Japan during the later half the the 19th century. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mrs L Chernowski
5.0 out of 5 stars Downer Does it Again
I love Ms. Downer's books. Great history lessons, rich characters and exciting or effective plot lines. She always gets my vote!
Published 17 months ago by Beadmaven
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