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A World as Theatre
on 13 March 2003
Lesley Downer has written a real page turner. With exquisite prose, she introduces us to Madame Sadayyako, a Geisha who became Japan's first actress, who disappeared into the shadows of history. But at the turn of the twentieth century Madame Sadayyako was world-wide known and touched the lives of Picasso, Rodin, Gide, the Tsar of Russia, the Prince of Wales, President McKinley of the USA, and Puccini, for whom she was the model for Madame Butterfly. Downer has the background to make this episode in Japanese history come alive, having lived in Japan for over a decade. Putting herself back into Madame Sadayyako's era is no easy task and required complete submersion in Japanese culture. The photographs are striking and go far toward bringing Madame Sadayyako's fascinating life into sharp focus. We are in the hands of an expert. Downer describes sumptuously the sights, sounds and customs of an era gone by, which deserves to be remembered for its effect on the Western World. I recommend Downer's book highly. It is in that rare category of a good read - and a rattling good story at that, from which one can learn also a great deal.