Excerpt from The Concubine's Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Concubine's Tattoo

by Laura Joh Rowland

The Concubine's Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Dec 1998, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2000, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


With careful strokes Harume shaved bare her pubic area, brushing the cut black strands onto the floor. Then she set aside the razor and lifted the knife.

Reiko, her face still concealed beneath the white headdress, lifted the sake cup to her lips and drank. The process was repeated three times. Then the attendants refilled the cup and passed it to Sano. He drank his three drafts, imagining that he felt the transient warmth of his bride's dainty fingers on the polished wood and tasted the sweetness of her lip rouge on the rim: their first, albeit indirect, touch.

Would their marriage be, as he hoped, a union of kindred souls as well as sensual satisfaction?

A collective sigh passed through the assembly. The san-san-ku-do-- the "three-times-three-sips" pledge that sealed the marriage bond-- never failed to arouse poignant emotion. Sano's own eyes burned with unshed tears; he wondered if Reiko shared his hopes. The attendant set aside the cup and filled the second one. This time Sano drank first, three times, then Reiko did. After the third, largest cup was passed and the liquor sipped, the flute and drum music resumed. Joy nearly overwhelmed Sano. He and Reiko were now joined in wedlock. Soon he would see her face again...

Touching the knife's sharp blade to her tender, shaved skin, Harume flinched at the coldness of the steel. Her heart thudded; her hand trembled. She put the knife down and took another drink. Then, closing her eyes, Harume summoned the image of her lover, the memory of his caresses. The incense smoke steeped her lungs in the scent of jasmine. Ardor flooded her with daring. When she opened her eyes, her body was still, her mind calm. She took up the knife again. On her pubis she slowly cut the first stroke, just above the cleft of her womanhood.

Crimson blood welled. Harume let out a sharp hiss of pain; tears stung her eyes. But she wiped away the blood with the end of her sash, took another drink, and cut the next stroke. More pain; more blood. Eleven more strokes, and Harume sighed in relief. The worst part was done. Now for the step that would bind her irrevocably to her lover.

Harume opened the lacquer jar. The stopper was fitted with a bamboo-handled brush, its soft bristles saturated with gleaming black ink. Carefully she brushed the ink onto the cuts, enjoying its cool wetness, balm to her pain. With her bloody sash she blotted up the excess ink and stoppered the bottle. Then, sipping more sake, she admired her work.

The complete tattoo, the size of her thumbnail, etched in black lines, now adorned her private place: an indelible expression of fidelity and devotion. Until the hair grew back, she hoped she could keep herself covered, hiding her secret from the other concubines, the palace officials, the shogun. But even after the tattoo was safely obscured, she would know it was there. As would he. They would treasure this symbol of the only marriage they would ever celebrate. Harume poured herself another cup of sake, a private toast to eternal love.

But when she drank, she couldn't swallow; the sake leaked from her mouth, running down her chin. A strange tingling began in Harume's lips and tongue; her throat felt strangely thick and numb, as if packed with cotton. An eerie, cold sensation crept across her skin. Dizziness washed over her. The room spun; the lamp flames, unnaturally bright, whirled before her eyes. Frightened, she dropped the cup. What was happening to her?

Sudden nausea gripped Harume. Doubling over, hands pressed against her stomach, she retched. Hot, sour vomit clogged her throat, shot up her nose, and spewed onto the floor. She wheezed and coughed, unable to get enough air. In a panic, Harume rose and started for the door. But the muscles of her legs had gone weak; she stumbled, scattering incense burners, razor, knife, and ink bottle. Lurching and limping, all the while struggling to breathe, Harume managed to reach the door and open it. A hoarse cry burst from her numb lips.

Reproduced from the Concubine's Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland. © 1997 by Laura Joh Rowland, used by permission of the publishers - St Martin's Press.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Amber Shadows
    The Amber Shadows
    by Lucy Ribchester
    The Amber Shadows sweeps readers into the realm of World War II-era Britain where Honor "Honey" ...
  • Book Jacket: Midwinter Break
    Midwinter Break
    by Bernard MacLaverty
    Northern Ireland's Bernard MacLaverty is the author of five novels and multiple short story ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ninth Hour
    The Ninth Hour
    by Alice McDermott
    In a pivotal scene in The Ninth Hour, young Sally encounters an increasingly loathsome series of ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford

    Inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle's epic 1909 World's Fair.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Twelve-Mile Straight
    by Eleanor Henderson

    An audacious epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don't Rise

A debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y Can't M A S P O O A S E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.