Phyllis Birnbaum is the author of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Why did you decide to write about Kawashima Yoshiko?--Marshal Zeringue
A: My friend, the Japanese novelist Funado Yoichi, was writing a long novel about Manchuria, and he suggested that I write about Yoshiko. He felt that she would give me a way to discuss not only her wild life, but also the historical background in all its fascinating, complicated aspects. That was the direct reason for choosing her.
But there’s another, indirect influence on my book. Long ago, I read a book by Edward Seidensticker about the Japanese writer Nagai Kafu, called Kafu the Scribbler.
It was not only a biography of Kafu, but also told the fascinating story of his times, effortlessly weaving Japanese literature and Japanese history together. The writing shows Seidensticker’s love of Kafu and of old Tokyo, all introduced in a very engaging way.
In my biography of Yoshiko and other biographies I’ve written, I’ve kept Seidensticker’s Kafu in mind, as I try to find...[read on]