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Publisher's Summary

As read on BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week'.

Shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award

Longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize

For over 300 years, Japan closed itself to outsiders, developing a remarkable and unique culture. During its period of isolation, the inhabitants of the city of Edo, later known as Tokyo, relied on its public bells to tell the time. In her remarkable book, Anna Sherman tells of her search for the bells of Edo, exploring the city of Tokyo and its inhabitants and the individual and particular relationship of Japanese culture - and the Japanese language - to time, tradition, memory, impermanence and history.

Through Sherman’s journeys around the city and her friendship with the owner of a small, exquisite cafe, who elevates the making and drinking of coffee to an art-form, The Bells of Old Tokyo presents a series of hauntingly memorable voices in the labyrinth that is the metropolis of the Japanese capital: an aristocrat plays in the sea of ashes left by the Allied firebombing of 1945. A scientist builds the most accurate clock in the world, a clock that will not lose a second in five billion years. A sculptor eats his father’s ashes while the head of the house of Tokugawa reflects on the destruction of his grandfather’s city (‘A lost thing is lost. To chase it leads to darkness’).

The result is a book that not only engages with the striking otherness of Japanese culture like no other, but that also marks the arrival of a dazzling new writer as she presents an absorbing and alluring meditation on life through an exploration of a great city and its people.

©2019 Anna Sherman (P)2019 Macmillan Audio (US)

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  • 26-07-20

An evocative, intriguing book

I learnt so much listening to this book and understood a little more of the Japanese culture and it's people. Old Edo was a fascinating place, it's history of Shoguns and bells, of time itself and how it was seen and experienced until quite recently by it's citizens, is a bit like listening to a fairy tale about a mythical country, which of course it was for many years to Western people.
It also faces us with one of the greatest atrocities of the last century, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and it's consequences, not the least of which was the brutal forcing of Japan into the 20th century by it's American conquerors. I would encourage anyone visiting Japan for the first time to take this book, go to Tokyo and trace the past using this book as a map and guide.
The reader was adequate but I never forgot it was being read and would have liked a 'Juliet Stevens" equivalent to tell the stories in this unique and fascinating book.

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