Known primarily as a travel writer thanks to the frequent assignment of her Diary
in high school history and literature classes, Nun Abutsu was a thirteenth-century poet, scholar, and teacher, and also a prolific writer. Christina Laffin
's new book explores Abutsu's life and written works, taking readers in turn through her letters, memoirs, poems, prayers, and travel diary, among others. Each chapter of Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu
(University of Hawai'i Press, 2013) looks at one of Abutsu's literary products and considers how and why the document was produced and what it can tell us about the literary environment for thirteenth century Japanese women. Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women
is careful to read these sources not as transparent guides to fact, but instead as narrative forms that were shaped by conventions of their respective genres. From the diary Fitful Slumbers
to the poetry manual The Evening Crane
and beyond, Laffin also pays special attention to Abutsu's scholarly interpretations of The Tale of Genji
. Laffin's book is a fascinating and carefully-wrought story, and in re-situating Abutsu's work within Japanese literary studies it also opens a space for renewed attention to medieval women's writing more broadly conceived.