Friday, May 05, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

I really had no great desire to read this book, but one day one of my colleagues had it at work and asked if anyone wanted to borrow it. Because I never have enough books to read(!) I put my hand up. It seriously shook my reading order up on my TBR pile because I was conscious of getting it back to her asap but I am certainly glad that I have read it now.

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love, always elusive, is scorned as illusion.

Sayuri's story begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. Through her eyes, we see the decadent heart of Gion--the geisha district of Kyoto--with its marvelous teahouses and theaters, narrow back alleys, ornate temples, and artists' streets. And we witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it. But as World War II erupts and the geisha houses are forced to close, Sayuri, with little money and even less food, must reinvent herself all over again to find a rare kind of freedom on her own terms.

I finished reading this book a few days ago and whilst I enjoyed it immensely, I can't really think what to write. Whilst reading it I was completely engrossed in it, so much so that I nearly missed my train stop one morning on the way to work. Luckily I was on an older train that announces the next stop, not just has it on a display screen!

The thing that was most fascinating to me was the description of a culture that is completely different to my own. I knew a little about geishas but nowhere near as much as I learnt reading this book, from their living arrangements, to their daily habits, to their relationships. It was also very interesting to see what happened to the geishas during WWII, something that I had given absolutely no thought to.

The most interesting aspect was that of the relationship that Sayuri had with The Chairman, a man who she had had feelings for for many years but who it seemed was always just outside her reach.

It was also interesting to see Sayuri finding a way to dictate her own life when generally the life of a geisha was not really her own, initially being dictated to by the senior geisha in her home. In Sayuri's case this was the extremely vindictive Hatsumomo who did everything within her power to destroy Sayuri's career both before it had even really started, and once she was successful. It really did seem to be a geisha eat geisha world in Gion!

One of these days I will get around to watching the movie. It will be interesting to see where the differences are and to see how this story translates to the movie format.

Rating 4/5

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1 comment:

  1. I loooove that book. I have the movie but haven't gotten around to watching it yet. It's on my to do list.



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