The Confessions of Lady Nijo

translated by Karen Brazell. Doubleday Anchor Books, $2.95. At the age of fourteen. Lady Second Avenue, a noblewoman of most distinguished ancestry, became a royal concubine. Years later, fallen out of favor (and small wonder, for she was a recalcitrant girl who liked almost any bed better than the emperor’s), she wrote her memoirs. They are thick with the kind of elliptical, punning Japanese poetry that cannot be decently translated into English, and are constantly awash with tears, but they provide a lively, sharp-witted description of court life in thirteenth-century Japan. The book was forgotten for centuries and has only recently been rediscovered.