Author Page: Perle Besserman

Kabuki Boy by Perle Besserman

Released March 30, 2013.

Press kit here. Orders available on the Publications & Store page.

Recipient of the Theodore Hoepfner Fiction Award and past writer-in-residence at the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Artist Colony in Jerusalem, Pushcart Prize nominee Perle Besserman was praised by Isaac Bashevis Singer for the “clarity and feeling for mystic lore” of her writing and by Publisher’s Weekly for its “wisdom [that] points to a universal practice of the heart.” Her autobiographical novel, Pilgrimage, was published by Houghton Mifflin, and her electronic book story collection, Marriage and Other Travesties of Love, by Cantarabooks. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals both in print and online; these include The Southern Humanities Review, The Nebraska Review, Briarcliff Review, Transatlantic Review, 13th Moon, Bamboo Ridge, Lilith, Hurricane Alice, Crab Creek Review, Other Voices, Agni, Southerly, Page Seventeen, Midstream, Sketch Media, Kaimana, The Oddville Press, Dark Sky Magazine, The Sylvan Echo, Fiction Circus, Prick of the Spindle, Emprise Review, Stirring Fiction, Fogged Clarity, Cantaraville, Mixed Nerve, Cerise Press, SNReview, The Caper Literary Journal, The Write Room, Bearcreekfeed, and Untoward, among others.

Her books of creative non-fiction include Oriental Mystics and Magicians, The Way of Witches, Monsters: Their Histories, Homes, and Habits (Doubleday), The Private Labyrinth of Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano and the Cabbala (Holt), Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic (Doubleday/Shambhala/ Barnes and Noble), The Way of the Jewish Mystics (Shambhala/Random House), Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels and Reformers (Manfred Steger, co-author, Shambhala/Random House), Owning It: Zen and the Art of Facing Life (Kodansha), The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism (Shambhala/Random House), Teachings of the Jewish Mystics (Shambhala/Random House), and Grassroots Zen (Manfred Steger, co-author, Tuttle). Her most recent books of creative non-fiction are A New Kabblah for Women (Palgrave and Griffin Paperback Edition), A New Zen for Women (Palgrave, and Sony e-book edition), and Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers, co-authored with Manfred Steger, (Wisdom Publications).

Her books have been translated into German, Spanish, Japanese, Czech, Italian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Thai. The audio book version of Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic was recorded by Sounds True Audio Editions, Boulder, CO. Besserman has written for publications as varied as Mademoiselle, Manoa ( Honolulu), The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, A Different Drummer, Canadian Literature, and East West. She has appeared on national and international radio and television as well as in two Canadian documentary films about her work, and currently divides her time between Honolulu, Hawai’i and Melbourne, Australia.

Visit Perle Besserman on the web at .

About the Novel:
Perle Besserman’s Kabuki Boy is a novel of Japan set in and around the capital city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during the waning decades of the Tokugawa Era (1600-1868). Broadening the often narrowly focused literary and cinematic portrayals of samurai resistance to their declining social status, Besserman’s vivid narrative conveys that tumultuous period through the eyes of its peasants, priests, politicians, revolutionaries, mountebanks, geisha, and actors using the Kabuki theatre as a backdrop. Its nineteenth-century framework nested in a post-modern narrative by its fictional twentieth-century “editor,” a cultural historian and abbot of a Zen monastery one hundred miles from Tokyo, the book is comprised of memoirs, theatrical and monastery records, personal letters and journals, all centering on the life of a Kabuki boy actor whose brief but illustrious career reflects not only the “golden age of Kabuki Theatre,” but the most dramatic spiritual, political, and artistic events characterizing Japan’s violent emergence into the modern world.

Purchase link:


Title Availability

Press kit here.
Publisher Direct
Kindle edition
Ingram distribution
Barnes & Noble

Events & Readings

Look for Perle Besserman's author session and panel discussion, "Life Writing," every day of the 8th Annual Hawai'i Book and Music Festival, May 18-19, 2013
Jay Fidell interviews Perle Besserman for ThinkTech Hawaii. Interview broadcasted on Hawai'is Olelo TV channel April 13 & 14, 2013.
Catch Perle Besserman reading live from Kabuki Boy on Shindig, February 13, 2013 from 4 - 5 p.m. EST. RSVP here.
Perle Besserman will be reading at the MIA Art & Literary Series on Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 3 p.m. at Fresh Cafe on Queen Street in Kakaako, Honolulu, HI
:: view photos of Perle's book launch ::
Perle is interviewed for Hawaii Public Radio, an NPR affiliate. Listen to the May 6, 2013 broadcast by accessing the HPR archives here.
A write-up at The Penmen Review


Interviews, Excerpts, & Press

A review at the Historial Novel Society's website
An interview in Cerise Press
A review in Honolulu Weekly
A review in Prick of the Spindle
A review in The Los Angeles Review

Advance Praise for Kabuki Boy :

Set during Japan's Tokugawa era (1600-1868), Besserman's novel explores the declining social status of the samurai class through the lens of Myo, the bastard son of a geisha. Although historical context drives much of the plot, the core story focuses on Myo's personal adventures, large and small, as he moves through society. In the background, an unfolding revolution proves both pivotal and incidental to Myo's story—much as the larger events of our lives become fully decipherable only in retrospect. We follow him as he tries on different roles: apprentice to a physician; store clerk-in-training; kabuki boy. In this final job, Myo finds himself in a position straddling influence and impotence. In these opaque echelons of Japanese society, Myo consorts with the same samurai to whom he has spent his whole life in subservience. Told through several perspectives—in letters and in the form of Myo's diary—the novel has the presence and solidity of an historical artifact, but humanity and its accompanying emotions—regret, humility, filial respect, burgeoning sexual love, purpose, and belonging—are ultimately what draw the reader into Myo's intriguing world. Review permalink
Publishers Weekly

With a rare skill, wisdom, and deep knowledge Besserman evokes Japan of the 19 th century so vividly that you immediately feel at home in this exotic world steeped in superstition and ceremonial suicide, brutally oppressed peasants and mysterious geishas, doctors trading in magical potions and mischievous Zen monks. Kabuki Boy is one of those rare books that has everything: complex, flawed, and endlessly sympathetic characters; astute social commentary; and a gripping, perfectly paced plot. And as much as this story is often heartbreaking, it is dead funny too. I couldn’t put this book down.
—Lee Kofman, Israeli-Australian author of I'll love Christina; Single Woman, 32; and Scars

Kabuki Boy stories an era of dire straits for Japanese farmers trying to revolt without excessive violence against a plutocracy and the allied political system that extorts all they have for its own extravagance. This old, still-current story hangs here brilliantly on two rich narratives, one after the other yet parallel by implication: a gifted boy, a sort of magician opportunist, a Huck Finn given to utter love, especially for his mother; and the story of his would-be priest father, who spends his life searching for Truth without knowing how he has deserted his one chance, his son. Samurai, priests, shogun, geisha, nuns, merchants, and above all, the actors and theatre companies, beloved and feared, that expose them all, subtly or outright…all survive by improvisation. So many masks inhabit this universal theatre. Reading this novel is an extraordinary experience.
—Paul Nelson, poet, seventh book forthcoming, Burning the Furniture, (Guernica Editions, 2014)

In subtitling Kabuki Boy a “A Novel of Old Japan,” Besserman makes the bold assertion that readers will be transported capably to another time and place. She delivers. The narrative is rich in subtle description and infused with sexual tension. The key relationships are kept deliciously ambiguous with the skill that is reminiscent of the best sensual scenes in the wonderfully executed novella, Silk, by Alessandro Baricco. In short, Besserman succeeds in satisfying the great urge of all readers: to experience the unfamiliar as insiders. Kabuki Boy deserves to be read alongside another great novel of the early Tokugawa Period, Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa.
—Mitchell Stocks, lecturer at City University in Hong Kong

Besserman’s novel is a meditation on life and love, and the fleeting nature of everything. It is a compelling tale of sexual ambiguity and illusion, offering a glimpse into an ambivalent world, at once exciting and dangerous; luminous and bleak; romantic and violent. Her unique voice captures the atmosphere of a culture in which fashions and manners are changing, and evokes the sensibilities of the period while retaining a freshness that speaks to the twenty-first century reader. Her deep knowledge of the Zen tradition and feeling for Japan in transition shine through to make this a captivating and wholly satisfying reading experience.
—Chris Hudson, PhD, Associate Professor of Asian Media and Culture, Global Cities Research Institute, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia

In Myo, the Kabuki boy, Besserman has created a (literally) magical character able to transport the reader directly to the imperial Japan of the early 19th century. Myo's abilities to find a pathway into the hearts of an astonishingly wide range of characters whose lives he then proceeds to transform is matched only by his ability to "channel" the spirits of the characters he enacts on stage. The discriminating reader will be much taken by the veracity of Besserman's research on the period and her ability to situate characters into the complex social pathways and manners that dominated society in pre-Meji Japan. The reader will be equally moved by the astonishing arbitrariness and distributions of grief and misery of that society, gaining from Besserman a powerful sense of the forces that would continue to accumulate in Japanese society as it moved toward an eventual reformation within the next half century.  The book is a must-read for both the discerning historian and the person seeking the simple astonishment of a society radically different from our own.
—Deane Neubauer, senior consultant for the Education Program at University of California Riverside, senior researcher at the Globalization Research Center


Home | About Us | Contact | Publications | ©2011 Aqueous Books