"The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro,"...


"The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro," edited by Alison Fells. Harcourt Brace. 256 pages. $22 This is a lovely volume, purportedly written by an 11th-century Japanese courtesan.

It's the tale of Onogoro, a gifted poet and concubine to a boorish general. The general gives no thought to Onogoro's sexual pleasure, so the lady arranges for a blind stable boy to hide behind a screen during their trysts, and to whisper erotic stories that bring the stimulation and release the general does not.

The stories are magical, voluptuous and arousing, filled with naughty monks, passionate ghosts and cruel emperors. But the pillow boy's tales are only half the fun; the depiction of court life, with its intriguing mixture of rigid roles and acknowledgement of human foibles, is captivating. Was poetry so admired in Japan 1,000 years ago, and were women so admired for writing it well? It's nice to think so.

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