A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity by Whitney Otto
A Novel

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Synopsis

The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt transports us to San Francisco in the early 1980s, a magical, fog-shrouded city suffused—as are many of its denizens—with possibility and restless energy. In A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, Whitney Otto’s charac-ters congregate night after night at a North Beach bar called the Youki Singe Tea Room, their lives conjoined by the bonds of friendship and shared experience. At the Youki Singe, the stories of these young people’s lives—their parties, their eccentric living situations, their passions for books and art and one another—are recorded in one patron’s “pillow book,” her version of the intimate journals of the courtesans of Edo Japan. Meanwhile, though, the careless joys of the drifting life are giving way to a desire to find something more substantial, a need to belong to something or someone.

The title A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is taken from a series of woodblock prints by the eighteenth-century artist Utamaro, a master at depicting Japan’s legendary Floating World, where, it is said, the patrons of the great pleasure quarters—and their escorts—devoted them-selves to the pursuit of music, sex, food, poetry, theater, and fashion. Now, two hundred years later and an ocean away, the young men and women of Otto’s San Francisco find themselves in their own version of a Floating World.
Illustrated with more than two dozen beautifully reproduced woodblock prints, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity conjures an atmosphere both dreamy and contemporary. Whitney Otto engages the senses as well as the mind while exploring the intricacies, the trouble, and the rapture of human connection.
 

About Whitney Otto

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Whitney Otto lives with her husband and son in Portland, Oregon.
 
Published March 5, 2002 by Random House. 304 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity

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The beautiful and mysterious Jelly roams aimlessly through the novel until she falls in love with an Iranian boy (after a brief tryst she sends him pictures of herself in places all over San Francisco) who in turn falls in love with a transvestite.

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Publishers Weekly

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The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt experiments again with a patchwork narrative, building an elaborate, piquant story of the loves and lives of a group of young 1980s San Franciscans around a series of 18th-century woodblock prints that depict the women of Edo, Japan.

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Project MUSE

As Utamaro depicted the Floating World of his time—the pleasure quarters that existed for the pursuit of music, food, sex, fashion, and theater—this novel gives us a world of young people, most of whom do not work at the jobs for which they had been educated, drifting through life without commitm...

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