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THREE ASIAN DIVAS
WOMEN, ART AND CULTURE IN
SHIRAZ, DELHI AND YANGZHOU
by David Chaffetz

The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon.

Wherever poetry, music and mime have been practised with virtuosity, great women performers always take centre stage. Traditional Asian divas are however less well known and understood among English language readers than the great divas of Mozart and Puccini. Whether from Shiraz at the court of the Injuids, from Delhi during the twilight of the Moghuls, or from Yangzhou under the last Ming emperors, these Asian divas constitute the first identifiably modern women. Though practising classical and tradition-bound arts, they were economically independent, and were free to give or withhold love. Indeed, in many ways, they paved the way for the emergence of the modern woman in Asian societies.

The diva has left her own lasting legacy across the world. Her message, several centuries old and composed in a learned language, resounds as powerfully today as when first performed, while her art itself shines out far beyond the private salons of the literati, reaching round the world, from the still lively productions of Chinese and Western opera houses to the vibrancy of cinema screens in Bombay and Shanghai.

"In Three Asian Divas, David Chaffetz, a scholar and translator of Persian, Turkish, and Arabic, zeroes in on erasures in the history of these traditions: the brilliant women performers, virtuoso singers, and dancers who graced and cut a swath through the opulent courts of Iran, India, and China. These were dazzling enough to be able to make their fortunes, and their own choices, in cultures where women were subordinate and invisible. He transports us back in time to meet them: in a princely gathering in 14th century Iran one enacts the come-ons and refusals in a ghazal of the great Hafez; in a marble pavilion in the last days of the Moghul dynasty in Delhi another sings a ghazal of the famous Ghalib; and in the Blue Mansions that lie in a willow grove across the river in late Ming dynasty Yangzhou a third one becomes a legend with her wit, erudition, and music. At the center of this recovered history these divas sit like a glittering geode broken open for us by Chaffetz in this volume which is--like its subjects--slim, graceful, entertaining, and deeply erudite." -- Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., Poet and translator of Wine & Prayer: Eighty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz

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Don't miss the author at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and Royal Geographical Society, 3-4 November