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East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir through the Seasons
by Liza Dalby
University of California Press, USA; Chatto & Windus and Vintage Books, UK

Judges' Citation:

Liza Dalby's East Wind Melts the Ice is a lyrical and beautiful book comprised of inspired reflections on gardening and on ancient Chinese and Japanese cultures. In keeping with the traditions she describes, Dalby structured the book according to the Chinese almanac, in which the four seasons are divided into seventy-two separate periods of five days each. The result is a both a poetic journey through time and a stunning tapestry of words and images with the delicacy and vulnerability of a garden.

Book Description:

Writing in luminous prose, Liza Dalby, acclaimed author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki, brings us this elegant and unique year's journal — a brilliant mosaic that is at once a candid memoir, a gardener's diary, and an enlightening excursion through cultures east and west. Structured according to the seasonal units of an ancient Chinese almanac, East Wind Melts the Ice is made up of 72 short chapters that can be read straight through or dipped into at random. In the essays, Dalby transports us from her Berkeley garden to the streets of Kyoto, to Imperial China, to the sea cliffs of Northern California, and to points beyond. Throughout these journeys, Dalby weaves her memories of living in Japan and becoming the first and only non-Japanese geisha, her observations on the recurring phenomena of the natural world, and meditations on the cultural aesthetics of Japan, China, and California. She illuminates everyday life as well, in stories of keeping a pet butterfly, roasting rice cakes with her children, watching whales, and pampering worms to make compost. In the manner of the Japanese personal poetic essay, this vibrant work comprises 72 windows on a life lived between cultures, and the result is a wonderfully engaging read. (Source:

Liza Dalby is an anthropologist specialising in Japanese culture and the only Westerner to have become a geisha. She is the author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki and was a consultant on Steven Spielberg's film of Memoirs of a Geisha. She lives in California with her husband and three children.


"A delightful and fascinating combination of personal memoir and travelogue, insights into Japanese culture and literature, and descriptions of gardening, farming, and the natural world. . . .A beautiful volume."— The Bloomsbury Review

"Dalby seamlessly couples an artist's adroit sensitivity with an anthropologist's keen perception to create a singularly intimate yet universally accessible portrait of the natural world."— Booklist

"Dalby meditates on the changes under way in her garden, tells stories from her years in the field and contemplates etymologies and linguistic puzzles. . . . The structure of the almanac supports the eclecticism of Dalby's interests. She triangulates among the cultures and weathers of Berkeley, China and Japan, and presents a wealth of information. . . . Throughout, she demonstrates a principle well known to literary scavengers: one culture's givens and clichés are another's poetry." — New York Times Book Review


Read a review of East Wind Melts the Ice in WaterBridge Review.

Visit the author's website:

Author photo by Albie Sharpe from Kyoto Journal.





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