Read The Last Concubine Online

Authors: Lesley Downer

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical

The Last Concubine

BOOK: The Last Concubine
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Praise for
The Last Concubine

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

‘Deeply and richly researched.’ –

‘A sweeping historical drama . . . it is 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

‘[An] enthralling story that brings alive a distant exotic world.’ –
Woman and Home

‘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

‘Throughout, author Lesley Downer knows just what she is doing. She is writing a historically accurate romance, she is drawing on her knowledge of women’s lives in Japan . . . and she is respecting the fairy-tale conventions that govern her world . . . [
The Last Concubine
] does its job so well that one can see looming a large, long film version.’ –
The Japan Times

Praise for

‘Lesley Downer has taken the essential truth of geisha culture – its mystery – and peeled it away layer after layer like an onion. I highly recommend her engaging and enlightening examination of this little-known world.’ – Arthur Golden, author
Memoirs of a Geisha

‘Lesley Downer . . . has succeeded in penetrating this intensely secret and rapidly vanishing world and describing it brilliantly.’ –
Sunday Telegraph

Praise for
Madame Sadayakko

‘Downer is an agile and evocative writer who treats this sensational tale with consistent elegance.’ –
The Times

‘A delicious book, a vivid recreation of Meiji Japan and Belle Epoque Europe.’ –



is a Canadian citizen whose mother was Chinese and whose father was a professor of Chinese. She grew up surrounded by books on Asia, and lived in Japan for a total of fifteen years. She is the author of
On the Narrow Road
, which was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year Award;
The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japan’s Richest Family
, chosen as a
New York Times
Notable Book of 1995; and the highly acclaimed
Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World
. Downer is also a frequent contributor to
The Wall Street Journal
. She lives in London with her husband, author Arthur I. Miller, and visits Japan every year.

Also by Lesley Downer

Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha Who Seduced the West
Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World
The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japan’s Richest Family
On the Narrow Road to the Deep North

*Published in the United States as
Women of the Pleasure
Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha


Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.)

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank,
Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in a Viking Canada hardcover by Penguin Group (Canada),
a division of Pearson Canada Inc., 2008.
Simultaneously published in Great Britain by Bantam Press,
a division of Transworld Publishers, 61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA.
Published in this edition, 2009.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (WEB)

Copyright © Lesley Downer, 2008

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher
of this book.

Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental

Manufactured in Canada.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication data available
upon request to the publisher.

ISBN: 978-0-14-305271-5

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Visit the Penguin Group (Canada) website at

Special and corporate bulk purchase rates available; please see
or call
1-800-810-3104, ext. 477 or 474

To Arthur

If not to you,
To Whom can I show
The plum tree’s flower?
For, when it comes to colour and to scent,
Only he know who truly knows
Ki no Tomonori


Map: Japan in the 1860’s
Part I: The Village
1 Kiso Valley, 1861
Part II: The Womans Palace
2 Shells of Forgetfulness, 1865
3 The Lady of the Side Chamber
4 Escape, 1867
Part III: On the Road
5 City of Ghosts
6 Prison Gates
7 A Wisp of Smoke
8 Into the Hornets’ Nest
Part IV: City of Ruins
9 The Secret of the Brocade
10 Falling Blosssoms
11 Before the Dawn
12 A Visit to the Pawnbroker
Part V: The Eastern Capital
13 The Coming of the Emperor
14 Back from the Dead
15 The Gold Digger of Akagi Mountain
Epilogue: The Last Secret
Select Bibliography
Readers Guide

Part I

The Village


Kiso Valley, 1861





Without regret,

kimi to tami to no

If it is for you, my lord,

tame naraba

And your people,

mi wa Musashino no

I will vanish with the dew

tsuyu to kiyu tomo

On the plain of Musashi

Princess Kazu, 1861


Shita ni iyo! Shita ni iyo! Shita ni . . . Shita ni
. . . On your knees! On your knees! Get down . . . Get down . . .’

The shout came drifting across the valley, so faint it might have been the rustle of leaves carried on the wind. At the head of the pass, where the road dipped towards the village, four touslehaired children bundled in faded, patched kimonos stood listening for all they were worth. It was one of those late autumn days when everything seems transfixed, as if waiting. The pine trees that fringed the highway were uncannily still and the lightest of breezes barely lifted the mouldering red and gold leaves that lay swept into tidy piles well away from the verges. A hawk circled lazily and for a moment a flock of wild geese filled the sky. From around a corner in the road the familiar smell of
woodsmoke mixed with horse dung, human waste and miso soup wafted up. From time to time a cockerel crowed and the village dogs replied with a chorus of baying. But apart from that, the valley was silent. Normally the highway would have been crammed with people, palanquins and horses, as far as the eye could see. That day it was completely empty.

That was how Sachi always remembered the day, when she thought back to it years later – the pine trees so tall and dark, soaring endlessly upwards, the bowl of the sky so blue that it seemed close enough to touch, far closer than the pale mountains that shimmered on the horizon.

Sachi was eleven, but small and slight. In summer she was as tawny as one of the famous Kiso horse chestnuts but now her skin was startlingly translucent and pale, almost as white as her breath in the frosty air. Often she wished she was brown and sturdy like the other children, though they didn’t seem to care. Even her eyes were different. While theirs were brown or black, hers were dark green, as green as the pine trees in summer or the moss on the forest floor. But secretly, though she knew it was wrong, she rather liked her white skin. Sometimes she would kneel in front of her mother’s tarnished mirror and look at her pale face glimmering there. Then she would take out the comb that she kept tucked in her sleeve. It was her talisman, her good luck charm, beautiful, shiny and sparkly. It had always been hers, ever since she could remember, and no one else had a comb like it. Slowly, pensively, she would comb her hair until it was shining, then tie it neatly back with a piece of bright red crepe.

BOOK: The Last Concubine
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Lost Heiress #2 by Fisher, Catherine
Superbia 2 by Bernard Schaffer
One Hand On The Podium by John E. Harper
What's Left Behind by Lorrie Thomson
Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer
Never, Never by Brianna Shrum
Tres hombres en una barca by Jerome K. Jerome