Dalby, Liza (Liza C. Dalby, Liza Crihfield Dalby)

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Dalby, Liza (Liza C. Dalby, Liza Crihfield Dalby)


Married Michael Dalby (an educator); three children. Education: Stanford University, M.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1978; also attended Saga University, Saga, Japan.


Home—Berkeley, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


Anthropologist and writer. Worked as a geisha in Japan; served as geisha consultant to Rob Marshall and the producers of the film Memoirs of a Geisha, 2004.


(Editor, as Liza Crihfield) Ko-uta: "Little Songs" of the Geisha World, C.E. Tuttle Co. (Rutland, VT), 1979, reprinted as Little Songs of the Geisha: Traditional Japanese Ko-uta (as Liza Dalby), Tuttle (Boston, MA), 2000.

(As Liza Crihfield Dalby) Geisha, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1983.

(As Liza Crihfield Dalby) Kimono: Fashioning Culture, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1993.

The Tale of Murasaki (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.

(Author of foreword) Ariake: Poems of Love and Longing by the Women Courtiers of Ancient Japan, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2000.

East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2007.

Also contributor to All-Japan: The Catalogue of Everything Japanese, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984, and The Women of the Pleasure Quarter: Japanese Paintings and Prints of the Floating World, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1995.


Liza Dalby is an anthropologist who has devoted her career to the study of Japanese culture. She also spent a year pursuing the ancient Japanese profession of the geisha, becoming the only Western woman to do so. Dalby recounts her experiences in her first book, titled Geisha. She penned another factual work—this time about Japanese dress—titled Kimono: Fashioning Culture, before trying her hand at fiction with the 2000 novel The Tale of Murasaki.

Though geishas have often been associated with prostitution, the women who take this title more frequently merely provide conversation, companionship, and entertainment (such as playing music or singing) for male customers. Discussing Geisha in the Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Burnham explained: "Dalby devotes a brief section … to history, charting the profession's fluctuations in popularity, and correctly underlines the geisha's progress from arbiter of fashion in the Edo period to curator of tradition in the present day." Katherine Paterson, reviewing Geisha for the Washington Post Book World, reported: "Dalby sought to open up for foreigners the inscrutable world of the geisha. She succeeds, in large part, because she actually became a geisha—not a typical geisha, to be sure—but as Dalby shows us, there is no such thing as a ‘typical geisha.’" Paterson also commented: "The result of Liza Dalby's research is an elegantly balanced book. She gives us plenty of social history and current practice, she enlivens her account with her own experiences, but she never shoves herself to center stage."

Part of Dalby's experience as a geisha included wearing a kimono—a garment that has played an important part in Japan's culture and history. "Her experience inspired this exhaustive chronicle of the history and social meanings of the robe," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor about Dalby's Kimono. In the book Dalby reveals that throughout most of Japanese history, a multitude of facts about the wearer's age, social class, and romantic availability could be signaled by the kimono's arrangement. She also explains how color combinations relate to seasonal change and recounts the history of the garment and of what Sally Ann Hastings, reviewing Kimono in Historian, labeled "arbiters of fashion" in Japan. Hastings went on to praise the volume, stating that it "provides fascinating insights into the relationship between clothing, gender, national identity, and aesthetic taste." Conrad Totman in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History summarized that in Kimono, Dalby "offer[s] many thoughtful observations and insights."

For her first novel, Dalby chose a celebrated historical Japanese protagonist: Murasaki Shikibu, the female author of the famed eleventh-century story The Tale of the Genji. In writing The Tale of Murasaki, Dalby draws upon what little is known of Shikibu, such as fragments of her diary and her poems, as well as The Tale of the Genji itself. She incorporates some of Shikibu's own poetry into the text as well. The reader follows Murasaki from her girlhood education under a liberal father through her creation of stories about Prince Genji to entertain her teenage friends to her arranged marriage to an older man and subsequent widowhood, her success at the Imperial court during the Heian period, and at last her retirement to a Buddhist convent. The Tale of Murasaki met with praise from literary critics when it was published in 2000. Janice P. Nimura in the New York Times Book Review cited "Dalby's skill in animating the Japan of a millennium ago" and then observed that "it requires no special background in the material to enjoy the scenes at court, where Dalby is at her best." Elizabeth Ward in the Washington Post Book World called the novel "undeniably a version of the truth, and a captivating one to boot. The most important thing Dalby has got right is Murasaki's voice."

East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons was published in 2004 and features a series of introspective essays by Dalby. The author presents seventy-two short sections based on an ancient Chinese almanac that incorporates seventy-two five-day units to make up the year. These units are subtitled with names such as "East Wind Melts the Ice," "Thunder Signs" and "Earthworms Twist." Some of the writing is about the author's unusual life, from her time in Japan to her days gardening in California. In the process, she also comments on the almanac and its meaning and explores various aspects of nature. "Through her musings on the natural world, a picture comes into focus, almost by accident, of an extraordinary woman: anthropologist, wife, mother, writer," noted Louise Carpenter in London's Daily Telegraph. Carpenter went on to write: "I have never come across a book so eccentric, elegiac and yet still compulsive. It calms, … transports and, ultimately, restores hope that true beauty does not lie in wealth, material acquisition or celebrity, but in the natural world." Other critics also had high praise for the East Wind Melts the Ice. Carol Haggas, writing in Booklist, noted that the author is able "to create a singularly intimate yet universally accessible portrait of the natural world."



Dalby, Liza, East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2007.


Booklist, February 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of East Wind Melts the Ice, p. 12.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), April 26, 2007, Louise Carpenter, "Let Yourself Be Open," review of East Wind Melts the Ice.

Historian, summer, 1994, Sally Ann Hastings, review of Kimono: Fashioning Culture, p. 766.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1995, Conrad Totman, review of Kimono, pp. 185-186.

Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2000, Michael Harris, review of The Tale of Murasaki, p. E5.

New York Times Book Review, March 6, 1994, Alida Becker, "Layers of Meaning," p. 16; January 7, 2001, Janice P. Nimura, "Lady-in-Waiting," p. 27.

Pacific Affairs, summer, 2003, Monika Dix, review of Kimono.

Publishers Weekly, December 24, 2001, "Fashion History," p. 58.

Time, December 10, 1984, review of All-Japan: The Catalogue of Everything Japanese, p. 98.

Times Literary Supplement, December 14, 1984, Jonathan Burnham, "All-Rounders," review of Geisha, p. 1455.

Washington Post Book World, December 18, 1983, Katherine Paterson, "Sake and Sympathy," pp. 1, 14; December 19, 1993, review of Kimono, p. 13; July 23, 2000, Elizabeth Ward, "Timeless Lady," review of The Tale of Murasaki, p. 9.


Daily Telegraph Web site,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (September 24, 2007), "Secrets of a Californian Geisha Girl" (profile of author).

Liza Dalby Home Page,http://www.lizadalby.com (September 24, 2007).

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