Book Review: The Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai, Barbara Lazar

| 8 February , 2013 | Reply

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“Flower” and “Samurai” are not words one would normally think of when referring to Japanese warriors in pre-industrial Japan, yet this book is all about how one girl, destined by omens, becomes a female samurai following its code of conduct right till the end.

“Pillow books” referred to diaries that people slept with hence the term. This book is based on the Kozaisho diaries that were unearthed in a burial ground in Kobe, Japan between 2000 and 2010. Written by Lady Kozaisho, who started her life as a commoner, transitioned into a woman-for-play (prostitute) and eventually married by Lord Michimori with whom she fought alongside in the Gempei war.


The book uses a lot of symbolism to develop the story showing that symbolism was a big part of people’s lives and governed their actions and thoughts. Poetry, short stories, visions are used liberally throughout the book to explain different situations and dilemmas. Honour of self, of family, revenge and religion are very strong themes running throughout the plot.  Honour is reflected in almost every action carried out by the characters in the book. For example, when Kozaisho is banished to the Village if Outcasts (sold by her proprietor to the Madam), she is still commanded to maintain the honour of her family.

What I like about the story is that Kozaisho’s spirit was one of survival and even though the men are portrayed as the ones with all the power, she shows an indomitable spirit in adjusting to her surroundings and ultimately shifting the balance of power in her favour. She uses the power of storytelling to change the men who visited her and to protect those dear to her like her servant Emi from becoming a woman-for-play.

All through the story, Kozaisho remains true to the path of the Samurai and the way of the Buddha ultimately taking her life after her husband is killed in the war. Although the pace slows down at some points in the story, this book is a fascinating insight into life in Japan during late 12th century and the ways of the military nobility, the samurai.

Available now: Hachette RRP$29.99


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