Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale, translated by Stephen Snyder. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, 166 pp., $24.95 (cloth)

Komayo, widowed young, resumes her life as a geisha, taking up with a former patron who wants to redeem her. She, however, falls in love with a young actor specializing in female roles, and at the same time (for financial reasons) has to take on an unattractive older man. In the end three lovers prove disastrous.

There has long been much confusion about just how far geisha go, and this has proved titillating — as in some recent novels, films and TV dramas. In this Nagai Kafu novel we learn that, given proper motivation, they go the whole way. What the late Edward Seidensticker has called "the carnal part of the business" is here fully exposed.

Consequently, this novel ("Udekurabe," 1916-17) by one of Japan's finest writers has had a singular publishing history. Originally serialized, it was later revised by the author. Much was taken out and three new chapters added. This version was published privately in 1917, and was followed by a commercial edition a year later that was expurgated and shorn of its carnal descriptions. It was not until 1949 that a somewhat restored edition appeared. Though some passages were thought too strong for 1918 were included, still much was left out and it was not until 1956 that the complete 1917 text appeared in a commercial edition.