Female. Education: Doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Ballantine Books, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Writer and graduate student. Worked as a hostess in Tokyo, Japan.
The Floating World, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Salon.com.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A novel about a supermodel who is a saint.
Cynthia Gralla's debut novel The Floating World is set in Japan and builds on her own experiences there. Asian Reporter critic Joseph Eaton described it as "a female-narrated Heart of Darkness set partly in the underbelly of Tokyo's pleasure districts."
Liza, the story's protagonist, is a Princeton graduate student who travels to Tokyo to study butoh, an avant-garde dance that evolved from the horrors of World War II and is referred to as the dance of utter darkness. When she arrives, she finds work as a hostess in a Ginza bar, where she acts as companion to men who come to drink and sing karaoke. Up to this point, the story somewhat parallels Gralla's own experiences, but then the story takes its fictional turn.
Liza has several lovers, including Carlo, who wears the garb of a monk and calls her Princess Amida, political radical Mark, and the student she left behind at Princeton. She stops eating and becomes involved with Maboroshi, the leader of the maiko, a group of subversive apprentice geisha who wander the streets at night dressed in traditional costumes. She changes jobs to work with Maboroshi at an exclusive nyoutaisushi restaurant, where sushi and other delicacies are arranged on the naked bodies of beautiful women, who are essentially tables from which the wealthy patrons can pick and choose their food. Book's Kelli Daley noted that Gralla learned about these restaurants from an American friend, but when she asked some of her customers at the bar to take her, they didn't comply.
The "floating world" of the title refers to the world of pleasures of classical Japan several centuries ago, according to Asian Review of Books contributor Peter Gordon. "This is a bizarre, dark world," he added. "Whether due to her lack of daily sustenance or the sinister powers around her, Liza begins to lose touch with reality, or at least everyday reality, and her world begins to float."
Gordon wrote that Liza is somewhat nihilistic, a characteristic increased by the macabre slice of Japanese culture that she inhabits. Furthermore, "her intelligence, her understanding of avant-garde dance, seem—rather than protecting her—to draw her into the extremes of 'the body as art,' 'sex as art,' and ultimately 'death as art.'"
A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Gralla succeeds in creating an intelligent contemporary heroine whose perceptive insights illuminate past and future, East and West."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Asian Reporter, April 22, 2003, Joseph Eaton, review of The Floating World, p. 12.
Book, January-February, 2003, Kelli Daley, review of The Floating World.
Booklist, March 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Floating World, p. 1274.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of The Floating World, p. 1718.
Publishers Weekly, January 20, 2003, review of The Floating World, pp. 54-55.
Asian Review of Books,http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/ (June 20, 2003), Peter Gordon, review of The Floating World. *